What Is a Digital Supply Chain?

Besides the upheaval it has cost the global economy and the millions of lives lost, COVID-19 brings to light the pressing issue of inequitable vaccine distribution, which is leaving millions vulnerable and prolonging the pandemic by allowing new deadly variants to keep developing.

To help bridge the vaccine divide, national vaccine supply chains need to adopt the latest digital technologies to ensure an integrated and much more efficient vaccine management and distribution process.

The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that “Successful immunization programmes are built on functional, end-to-end supply chain and logistics systems. These systems enable effective vaccine storage, distribution, handling, and management, ensure rigorous temperature control in the cold chain; and leverage logistics management information systems to promote resilient and efficient system performance.”

The good news is that certain big tech players are already developing digital supply chain solutions using innovative technologies such as Blockchain, AI, and IoT (Internet of Things).

What Is a Digital Supply Chain?

In simple terms, a digital supply chain is the application of electronic technologies to every aspect of the entire supply chain.

This involves end-to-end digitization of the complete process, from manufacturing to transportation, distribution to administration. Integrating electronic sensors and tracking capabilities enables real-time monitoring of the movement of goods for end-to-end connectivity, which ensures full transparency and visibility throughout each stage of the supply chain process.

A digital supply chain allows for enhanced process management and optimisation of the most complicated supply chains.

Supply Chain Digitization: From Industry 4.0 to Supply Chain 4.0

Digital supply chain transformation is the natural progression from Industry 4.0, which Wikipedia defines as “the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using modern smart technology.” Industry 4.0 sees large-scale machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) being integrated for increased automation, improved communication, and self-monitoring.

In line with the above, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes Supply Chain 4.0 as the next-generation digital supply chain involving the application of IoT, the use of advanced robotics, and the application of advanced analytics of big data in supply chain management.

Sensors will be placed in everything, networks will be created everywhere, anything can be automated, and everything will be analysed, to significantly improve performance and customer satisfaction. According to McKinsey & Company, Supply Chain 4.0 is the inevitable result of digitization, which will create supply chains that are:

  • Faster
    Predictive analytics will be able to forecast customer demand with greater precision. Amazon’s patented “anticipatory shipping”, for example, will pack and ship products before the order is placed so that the merchandise is already waiting at the shippers’ hubs or on trucks when the order arrives, speeding up the delivery process and boosting efficiency.
  • More Flexible
    Supply chain digitization will enable supply chains of the future to operate as a service, paid for by usage similar to the ride-sharing business model. Described as the “Uberization” of transport, Supply Chain as a Service will be offered as a crowd-sourced, flexible transport service on demand, for increased agility in distribution networks.
  • More Granular
    The growing demand for increasing product individualisation is paving the way towards microsegmentation and mass customisation. Customers will be managed in much more granular groups with a broader spectrum of product offerings. This includes the ability for customers to select the exact medium of logistics that fits their individual needs, e.g. drone deliveries for single high-value packages.
  • More Accurate
    Digital supply chain management will ensure real-time, end-to-end transparency throughout the entire distribution process, providing highly accurate information from a top-level view, e.g. the overall service level, to granular process data, e.g. the real-time position of trucks in the digital supply network.
  • More Efficient
    Supply chain digitization will lead to a significant boost in efficiency through automation. With robots handling the picking, packing, and shipping of merchandise in the warehouse to autonomous trucks transporting the shipments, the network setup is continuously optimised to adapt to changing requirements.

Key Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution That Call for Digital Supply Chain Solutions

The highly specific storage conditions of different vaccines, limited shelf life at different temperatures, and vaccine counterfeit collectively pose intricate challenges that require advanced digital supply chain solutions to ensure a much more robust and efficient vaccine management and distribution process.

1. Storage Conditions & Shelf Life

  • Pfizer BioNTech
    The Pfizer vaccine has a maximum shelf life of 6 months when stored in a freezer at -80°C to -60°C, and 31 days at 2-8°C after it is thawed. It needs to be protected from exposure to direct sunlight and ultraviolet light.
  • AstraZeneca
    In contrast, the AstraZeneca vaccine must not be frozen and has a maximum shelf life of 6 months when stored in a refrigerator between 2 to 8°C. Likewise, it needs to be protected from light.
  • Moderna
    When stored in a freezer at -25°C to -15°C, the Moderna vaccine has a maximum shelf life of 7 months, and 30 days at 2 to 8°C after it is thawed.

This is where AI-powered automation, for example, would play an instrumental role in triggering alerts of temperature rises beyond the temperature ceiling to prevent vaccine wastage and keep distribution on schedule.

2. Vaccine Counterfeit

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that with the COVID vaccine market estimated to be worth at least $150 billion, counterfeit COVID vaccines are now part of the rapidly growing worldwide trade in fake medicines.

In an effort to help the 92 low- and middle-income countries served by COVAX (the equitable vaccine initiative) that have no means of tracking or verifying COVID-19 vaccines, UNICEF is working on developing a blockchain-based solution, the Global Trust Repository (the GTR).

A traceability system to authenticate COVID-19 vaccines in the legitimate supply chain, the vaccines’ unique serialised product code numbers will be matched to a blockchain-secured repository of product codes originally generated by the manufacturers (the GTR).

TrustGrid’s End-to-End Digital Supply Chain Management Solution

A solution for smarter and more efficient vaccine distribution, TrustGrid’s blockchain-powered end-to-end digital supply chain management allows for greater control, visibility, and security at every stage of the supply chain process.


Using blockchain technology, each vaccine vial and batch is assigned a unique digital identity, which allows it to be tracked from the origin point of the manufacturer to the warehouse, distribution centre, and finally, the administrative centre (e.g. hospital, clinic, or GP office) where the actual vaccination takes place.

TrustGrid™ orchestrates multiple state-of-the-art technologies into a single platform, combining innovative cryptography, data privacy, confidential computing, and distributed ledger technology into a highly customisable and secure digital ecosystem platform.

Talk to us to find out out more about our digital supply chain solutions and how we can help with your digital supply chain transformation or management.

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