Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Postscript on My INFORMS Webinar: Blood, Sweat, and PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains and Impacting Policy Through Analytics

First, I would like to thank the INFORMS Practice Section for the invitation to deliver the inaugural webinar in its Analytics Series, which took place last Friday. The title of my webinar was: "Blood, Sweat, and PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains and Impacting Policy Through Analytics." 

As noted on the INFORMS Section's webpage: the goal of the webinar series is to bring awareness of the value of applying analytics to real-world problems. The series is organized by Dr. Patricia Neri of Bayer Crop Science and Dr. Carrie Beam of the University of Arkansas.

Also, special thanks to all those who were able to join in. I was thrilled to hear from colleagues in many different countries, who were able to Zoom in.

This blogpost is a postscript on the webinar with links to my presentation and to the full webinar, which is now on youtube, and answers to questions in the Q&A.

That morning began with getting ready for the virtual event.

The logistics of the webinar, which was carried out via Zoom, was handled by Beth West and Mary Leszczynski of INFORMS and it was exciting to have it be open to the public and to have the registration be free. 

We had had multiple practice sessions, since there were slides to be included prior to my presentation about the series as well as slides afterwards, providing a link to this blog and noting that the webinar would also be posted on youtube.

Dr. Neri gave a lovely introduction to my presentation.
In the webinar, I spoke about a variety of perishable product supply chains impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, including: food, PPE, and blood supply chains, and also provided some hope based on convalescent plasma as a treatment, under the reality of competition.  I discussed both earlier relevant research as well as research that we have conducted on supply chain disruptions and resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. And, I also spoke about the impact of analytics during the Covid-19 pandemic on policy, including our work on blood supply chains. I emphasized the importance of the work being done by our Operations Research and Analytics community and also highlighted inspiring younger generations.

The webinar is now also online, thanks to INFORMS. 

Dr. Carrie Beam expertly handled the Q&A.

And, as promised, since we did not get a chance to address all the questions, below I provide a list of questions, followed by my response. For completeness, I also include the questions that were "live."

Question from Don Mustard of Canada: Covid has exposed a global supply chain that was not prepared for a global pandemic. What is the role of government in reinforcing supply chains' structure against disaster, ensuring that disruption is minimized?

My answer: This is an excellent question. I believe that national governments must be involved in disaster mitigation and preparedness and clearly this pandemic is a healthcare disaster. First and foremost, the government must ensure that we are prepared for a worst case scenario, as we are are experiencing now. This is an extreme disaster given the impact and prevalence over space and time (unlike an earthquake, flood, tsunami, etc.).  Many of the supply chains that have been most severely disrupted now are being referred to as "critical infrastructure" and the associated workers are truly essential ones. The government should guarantee that we have adequate stockpiles of  PPEs and medical supplies as well as the capacity to produce them, including vaccines. Investing in food supply chains is also warranted. As I discussed in my presentation, labor in many industries, including food processing, has suffered in the pandemic, resulting in product shortages. Having healthcare for workers will keep everyone safer and make our supply chains more resilient.

Question from Dr. Angelika Leskovskaya of Southern Methodist University: Will it be possible to send slides and probably recording after the webinar?

My answer: The links to the slide and the recording of the webinar are given above. I will check with INFORMS about further broadcasting of the information. Thank you.

Question from Don Mustard of Canada: Perhaps could you discuss your thoughts on the concept that Covid didn't create problems in the supply chain, but rather, just exposed them... and what your confidence that we will learn from this (vs. revert to our historical patterns of behavior).

My answer: Clearly, the pandemic dramatically illustrated to everyone not only the importance of supply chains but also the need for flexibility, agility, and having multiple suppliers, among many other important characteristics. At the same time, the necessity of closing many businesses,  incorporating social distancing measures in production and processing facilities, dealing with employee illnesses and fears of contagion, modifying freight service provision, etc., put many additional stressors on the supply chains. I do believe that Operations Research and Analytics will be utilized and valued more by many organizations as a result of the pandemic because our tools are extremely useful and can identify vulnerabilities (as well as synergies) in supply chain networks. We (firms, organizations, governments) cannot turn our backs on the lessons learned.

Question from Dr. Duncan Klett, Cofounder of Kinaxis: It seems logical that national stockpiles should be filled to close to necessary levels, then supplies would flow through the stockpile so the oldest get sent out to hospitals for immediate use, keeping the stockpile "current."

My answer: Yes, one would think that that would be and should be the case. I believe that some were surprised that masks actually can, in effect, perish over time because their quality deteriorates. This should have been addressed and mitigated way before the pandemic hit us.  

Question from Dr. Amir Masoumi of Manhattan College: Once the volume of blood donations and transfusions across the US are back to "normal", in which direction do you see the blood banking industry moving with respect to balancing the supply and demand for blood products?

My answer: I believe that there will have to be more cooperation, rather than competition among blood service organizations. That was actually one of the themes in a paper co-authored with you and with Dr. Min Yu that I mentioned in my webinar presentation. Also, with the demand for convalescent plasma, obtained through apheresis of blood donations, as I had discussed in my presentation, which is emerging as a possible treatment for Covid-19, there is now some added hope for hospitalized patients battling this disease. There is competition now for the valuable convalescent plasma but, ultimately, there should be system optimization and allocation accordingly.

Question from Rishabh Bhandawat, PhD Candidate at the University of Buffalo: Would centralized inventory with some sort of sharing mechanism have helped with Covid? 

Answer: I think that definitely, yes, especially in the case of the National Stockpile of PPEs and medical supplies. However, as I had mentioned in the webinar, there were not sufficient amounts plus there was deterioration in the quality (hence, perishability) of many items, which exacerbated the shortages. We need a sufficient centralized inventory and management of the critical needs supplies along with a fair distribution to points of demand.

Question from Dr. Robin Lougee of IBM: Does Anna want to talk about the role of blockchain?

Answer: Time did not permit a discussion on blockchain.  However, how blockchain can influence supply chains in the pandemic would be an excellent topic for a future webinar. Thanks.

Question from Dr. Robin Lougee of IBM: What's the NEXT presentation in the series?

Answer: The next webinar will take place on July 10, 2020 and is entitled, "Inventory, Packages, Price Points and People: An Inside Look at leading Technical People." The webinar will consist of panelists who will address: "How do the best geeks in the industry motivate and manage their technical teams. The panelists will be: Dr. Pooja Dewan of Otis Elevator, Dr. Anne Robinson of Kinaxis, Dr. Mallory Freeman of UPS, and Dr. Pallav Chhaochhria of Citi.

Many thanks for all the great questions! During the Q&A there were also comments sent by Marino Biagini and by Teja Krasek (from Slovenia), which were very much appreciated.

There was a glitch at the beginning of the webinar, which was quickly corrected, by the projector unmuting the computer. The Chat facility was disabled by the INFORMS folks due to prior issues for security reasons. 

Being "first" in anything is always risky, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. And with technology and the Internet there is always the possibility of a disruption.

I like forward to further discussions and important contributions from our community during these challenging times and when the pandemic is past us.