- IBM has launched a platform to connect government and hospital procurement officers with manufacturers that have switched their production lines to produce medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
- The "Rapid Supplier Connect" platform uses a blockchain-based infrastructure to verify the more than 200 suppliers that have so far signed up for the platform to sell face masks, boot covers, cleaning agents, face shields, gloves, testing kits, ventilators and related circuits, thermometers, gowns, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, N95 Masks and other medical equipment.
- The platform will offer a streamlined supplier onboarding process, validation checks incorporating data from Dun & Bradstreet and IBM's blockchain-based identity platform, and inventory information in near-real-time. It will be free to approved buyers and suppliers until August 31, 2020.
The immense uptick in demand for PPE around the U.S. (and the world) in the few months since COVID-19 has consumed global healthcare systems and drawn some manufacturers and suppliers to shift their offerings toward these items. And these suppliers have played an important role in hospitals' ability to procure the needed medical supplies and PPE.
"It is through creating our own GPOs and supply chain, and joining forces with non-traditional suppliers that we have maintained an adequate stockpile of PPE and other equipment and supplies," Phyllis McCready, vice president and chief procurement officer at Northwell Health, said in a statement. Northwell Health is New York's largest healthcare provider and an early user of IBM's platform.
But entering an unfamiliar supply chain is not a task usually done at the speed required by the current crisis.
IBM conceived of the Rapid Supplier Connect platform after U.S. hospital systems, state governments, and European governments approached the team with challenges procuring critical supplies, Vice President of Offering Management and Strategy for IBM Sterling Jeanette Barlow told Supply Chain Dive.
"In some regards, it felt like to them a little bit of the Wild Wild West. You could liken it to the consumer rush on toilet paper," Barlow said. When it became clear that traditional suppliers would not be able to meet the need, healthcare buyers did not know where to go.
Likewise, when suppliers recognized the demand and converted their plants and supply chains to meet it, they were not yet approved suppliers for the relevant purchasing organizations. Conversion suppliers, as Barlow classes them, were capable of fulfilling orders, "but those supply relationships were not there," she said.
Plus, ad hoc suppliers with little validation or vetting are calling hospitals to sell their wares — some of which were of dubious origin or quality. Project 95 and The World Supply Chain Federation are working with IBM to vet and onboard legitimate conversion suppliers.
As the pandemic goes on, needs will change and supply and demand will shift as some hotspots cool down and others heat up. Furthermore, if cases spike again at a later date, as epidemiologists say may occur, the procurement chaos buyers have described to IBM will return. As the virus shifts, supplies too may need to move, and hospitals with excess PPE could register as suppliers themselves, Barlow said.
IBM's is not the first digital platform to address the PPE shortage. Resilinc announced a bartering platform called the Exchange in March to link hospitals with donations of PPE and facilitate supply trades.
Correction: A previous version misstated Jeanette Barlow's title.
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