Innovation is a tricky thing to assess. Whereas many may believe they are being innovative with their initiatives, others may see those approaches as merely good practice solutions or perhaps just novel developments. To be innovative an idea has to be more than just novel or different, it has to involve a step change in creativity; it has to deliver a method, technology or process that is unique for that sector. In some instances it may be the innovative application of a known technology or perhaps, the transfer of innovative technology from one sector to another. For certain, creativity is an essential ingredient in the mix.
This year there were five contenders for the Supply Chain Innovation Award: BT Supply Chain, DHL Exel Supply Chain, Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Hewlett Packard CDS and Kimberly-Clark.
BT Supply Chain has introduced a Right First Time control desk that integrates a number of existing processes and systems to give an early warning system for potential failures in the order and collection process – it alerts for product shortages out in the field through real-time confirmation.
DHL Exel Supply Chain’s entry related to its customer RAC Autowindscreens and a new night transport and delivery network for ensuring that windscreens arrive at 123 fitting centres across the UK before 8am. The project required the development of a unique wheeled glass distribution stillage and a keypad recognition system for drivers to gain night access to fitting centres.
The innovation entry for Hewlett Packard CDS concerned the bringing together of a number of technological solutions, from barcode scanning of all parts, to automated sourcing of requisitioned parts and automated purchasing. More than 65 per cent of all purchase orders are now raised automatically.
For Kimberly-Clark, innovation took the form of a low-cost connectivity platform for communicating with and selecting hundreds of carriers and matching to potentially thousands of customers. These stakeholders, with whom the company previously transacted business manually, are now trading electronically regardless of their technological capability.
When it came down to assessing the relative values of the innovative steps taken by each of the entrants, the judges asked the key question: “was it a company innovation, or was it an industry changing innovation?”
The judges found it difficult to see the innovative step at HP CDS and Kimberly-Clark. What they were doing was good practical stuff, but while it was absolutely innovative for them it probably wasn’t for the industry, say the judges.
For the judges, the entry that demonstrated an industry changing innovation was that from Guy’s & Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Over the past 12 months the organisation, together with its logistics service provider, Squadron Medical, has been focusing on gaining control over basic supply chain practices, such as category management, rationalisation of supply base, inventory tracking, and fill rate improvement from suppliers. Not exactly innovative stuff, but now the organisation is in the process of introducing a totally new automated replenishment system in theatre as part of the supply chain network. Storage units allowing access to authorised staff only are equipped with a computer-controlled system that monitors the use of stock and automatically re-orders as items run low. This may sound fairly straightforward, but in the health service sector this is innovative.
Under the previous process clinical staff counted stock and completed paper requisitions to re-order supplies from multiple suppliers. The process was time consuming, inefficient, and created over-stocking and obsolete stock. “The Guy’s project is really an innovation in hospital supply chain management. It can be seen in the US, but it’s certainly innovative in Europe. This is an exemplary case study for other hospitals to follow,” say the judges.