From ground turkey to Tylenol, within the last few months we've read about products that had to be recalled due to some kind of contamination. In the case of Tylenol, we're talking multiple recalls—for the same problem: reports of a musty, moldy odor linked to the presence of trace amounts of a chemical known as 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA)—a chemical used in other countries to treat wooden shipping pallets.
Why can't the supply chain professionals in the food and pharma supply chains get their acts together and find a way to keep tainted products from reaching the marketplace? Well, according to a recent research note from the Gartner Group titled “GS1 Standards Gain Traction Toward Improving Healthcare and Life Science Supply Chains,” they're in the process of doing so. Unfortunately, it's probably going to take a decade for everyone in these supply chains to be in synch—if then. It involves becoming part of a global data synchronization network. You know how hard it is for our representatives in Washington to get in synch. Imagine making that a worldwide effort. Using politicians as a benchmark, 10 years sounds optimistic.
“The primary factor for this slow pace is that changing the coding systems used for interorganizational information exchange requires coordinated IT changes that impact not only communications, but also internal applications,” the Gartner report states. … “It seems that every year we are reminded of the need for urgency, efficiency and international cooperation in the delivery of medical supplies during natural disasters or a pandemic. And every year, we have examples of either serious drug counterfeiting or dilution problems affecting both developing and developed nations.”
Unfortunately, up to now the actions to deal with such situations have been more like reactions. It seems that the companies involved start from scratch each time there's a new supply chain crisis. They need a standard to follow—and that's just what the pharma industry is working toward. GS1 Healthcare standards have created a universal, global identifier for products that enables the simplified exchange of data across the value chain. GS1 Healthcare has been the focal point of U.S. efforts, aligning the efforts of long-term, product data standard advocates.
But establishing standards is a long, tedious process—hence, the 10-year implementation timeframe Gartner projects. It involves critical thinking—a process that's diametrically opposed to the knee-jerk approach many companies have been using in times of crisis. Actually, critical thinking could use its own set of standards.
A blog post I read the other day (from Majorium Business Press) took a good crack at it. It broke the critical thinking process into a set of six standards, each one being a bridge to the next. They are:
Phase One: The Unenlightened Thinker –someone who isn't even aware a problem exists.
Phase Two: The Confronted Thinker – the realization that something's wrong with our thought process.
Phase Three: The Novice Thinker – someone who tries to think right but without consistency—every crisis seems new (sounds like that Tylenol recall situation).
Phase Four: The Proactive Thinker - individuals recognize the importance of regular practice to improve and enhance their thinking.
Phase Five: The Developed Thinker - individuals begin to advance at a rate equivalent to the effort put into it.
Phase Six: The Mastery Thinker – This is someone for whom reflective, analytical and evaluative thinking has become second nature.
According to this set of standards, the only way you can become a mastery thinker is to start out as an unenlightened thinker who eventually becomes aware of his own ignorance—and its cost. That seems to describe where many companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain are today. It may take ten years for the pharma supply chain to fully adopt GS1's standards, but where humanity is concerned, learning to think is a never-ending process—if done right.