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UPS gets ready to receive GS1 product-tracking data from anyone
Give the parties involved in this project this credit: they stuck to their guns. UPS Healthcare Logistics (Atlanta), Genzyme (Cambridge, MA) and Accenture (Chicago) have worked together since January 2008 and, despite the postponement of California’s e-pedigree legislation (until 2015), and without clear guidance from FDA that the GS1 product-coding standards will be an acceptable drug-tracking methodology, have established a GS1-compliant, unit-level serialization system that is expected to go live in Q1 2010.
For Genzyme, the effort is a follow-through on a longstanding position to protect its product from diversion throughout the supply chain. For UPS, the project represents a stake in the ground that the company will facilitate track-and-trace technologies for its clients. For Accenture (which provided project-scoping and design services), the project is something of a payoff from its years-ago Project JumpStart to get serialization technology deployed in biopharma distribution.
According to Dan Gagnon, VP in the UPS group, the decision was made early on to sidestep use of RFID tags in favor of 1D and 2D barcodes: “the impacts of RFID on sensitive healthcare products are still unknown and the investment is not cost-effective for companies.” Genzyme then proceeded to build in the necessary barcoding technology, while UPS needed compatible barcode readers and to rework its warehouse processes. In a major undertaking, UPS revamped its internal IT systems to accept barcode information in an EDI-compatible manner while meeting the still-evolving GS1 standards. The company says this was “the largest system change the company had made in nearly a decade.” The EDI/GS1 capability can now be offered to other customers, although there will be coordination necessary to bring new clients into the system.
Phase 1 of the project involves exchanging order-processing information between Genzyme’s and UPS’ facilities. Phase 2 will engage downstream trading partners. UPS expects to see immediate benefits in better tracking of items within a lot or shipment, and eventually to be able to tie specific shipments to chargebacks and related order-processing procedures.