Supply chain visibility in the last mile of delivery : A case study of the National Family Planning Supply Chain in Zimbabwe
Abstract: During the last decade, the role of supply chains has increasingly been articulated to be a key issue when it comes to universal health coverage. Humanitarian organization, donors and governments have started to realize that strong supply chains, in particular increased supply chain visibility, is imperative to ensuring proper availability of, and access to, health commodities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Understanding the processes at every stage of the supply chain allows for mitigation of risks, forward optimization and identification of best practices. More importantly, it ensures the availability of commodities at the last mile of distribution. During the course of this study, it was shown that the notion of supply chain visibility is an ambiguous concept, which makes it challenging for organizations to know how and what to address when aiming to improve the level of supply chain visibility. The best way of measuring the level of supply chain visibility was considered as being through measuring the quantity, accuracy and freshness of the information (status information, transactional information and master data) that is shared throughout the supply chain. By assessing the three attributes of the information that is shared within a supply chain, organizations and governments in LMICs, in this case the national family planning supply chain of Zimbabwe, can assess the current level of supply chain visibility and understand what there is that affects its levels. The findings showed that there are many areas that can be addressed when aiming to improve the level of supply chain visibility - many of which are not related to sophisticated information technology (IT) solutions. However, people tend leap from supply chain visibility to sophisticated IT solutions, when discussing how the level of supply chain visibility can be improved. The belief that investments in IT solutions will increase the level of supply chain visibility has shown to be an error of perception. When framing a problem solely as a technological issue, the risk is that other critical factors that can improve the quantity, accuracy and freshness of the information, thus also the supply chain visibility, are overlooked. Instead, this study suggests that organizations and governments should address two parameters; system maturity and capacity. Together, they capture the full spectrum of factors that can be addressed when aiming to increase the level of supply chain visibility in LMICs. System maturity refers to the way in which the supply chain is designed to facilitate for superior information sharing, such as frequency of resupply intervals, choice of push- or pull-system, the number of tiers or design of the logistics management and information system. The capability refers to the aggregated of the system ability, including; workload, training, education, competence, experiences and will of individuals working within the supply chain. By using the two parameters as a guideline, the idea is that organizations and governments in LMICs will be able capture a broader spectrum of possible areas that can be addressed when aiming to improve the level of supply chain visibility.
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