Global logistics companies play an outsize role in ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines get to healthcare systems worldwide. For one of those shipping companies a decade-long effort to perfect package tracking is paying off, enabling stakeholders to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of coronavirus medications.\nFedEx is using a sophisticated technology network to keep tabs on the millions of vaccine vials en route through a sprawling logistics pipeline that includes pharmaceutical companies, ground and air transportation giants, and healthcare systems responsible for administering the medications.\n[ Learn the secrets of highly successful data analytics teams. | Beware the 12 myths of data analytics and the sure-fire ways organizations fail at data analytics. | Get the latest on data analytics by signing up for CIO newsletters. ]\nThe network includes sensors and a cloud analytics platform that helps stakeholders monitor the progress of shipments in near real-time, according to FedEx CIO Rob Carter. \u201cThe proliferation of the internet of things has created a whole new ecosystem\u201d for logistics, Carter tells CIO.com, adding that FedEx has been awarded more than 50 patents for sensor-based logistics.\nAs the pandemic rages on, distribution of coronavirus vaccines is the most important mission for pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer and Moderna and their logistics partners in 2021. FedEx, United Parcel Service, DHL International and other delivery services companies ensure the medications are shipped in ultra-cold temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, or -70 degrees Celsius. Such cold chain storage, as the process is known, is key because exposure to higher temperatures may spoil the serum or at least reduce its potency.\nBut with countries struggling to meet their vaccination targets, pharmaceutical companies are ramping up production, heaping additional pressure on partners to ensure the medications are stored properly and distributed in a timely fashion.\nSensors and analytics manage logistics\nTo help, FedEx affixes a SenseAware ID to each vaccine shipment. These small, bar-coded sensors transmits location data every two seconds via Bluetooth to WiFi access points or gateway devices throughout the FedEx Express network, Carter says.\n FedEx\n\nRob Carter, CIO, FedEx\n\n\nWhen a driver scans the bar code with his or her handheld scanner it generates a \u201clicense plate,\u201d or shipping code, to help FedEx track the package and predict its ability to meet service requirements, Carter says. Packages equipped with SenseAware ID sensors are tracked hundreds of times throughout their route, versus dozens of times with traditional package scanning protocols.\nThe copious amounts of data generated by SenseAware ID funnels into FedEx Surround, an analytics platform co-created with Microsoft and hosted on Microsoft\u2019s Azure cloud. Surround harnesses historical data about FedEx routes and Zip codes, as well as external data sources such as weather, mapping, and other factors and runs it through Azure machine learning (ML) software.\nThis algorithmic approach helps FedEx to interpret conditions surrounding each package and to reroute a shipment before it can be delayed by storms, natural disasters, mechanical failures or incorrect addresses, among other hiccups.\nIn the case of COVID-19 vaccines, which are sensitive to higher temperatures, on-time deliveries are key to avoiding spoilage.\n\u201cThe vaccines are among the most important shipments made in our history,\u201d Carter says. \u201cThe main way to ensure temperature integrity is to get them where they\u2019re intended to go in the timeframes they need to be delivered.\u201d\nML fuels shipment predictions\nJudson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft\u2019s worldwide commercial business, offered the following Surround use case in a post on LinkedIn:\n\u201cImagine if a pallet of vaccines were destined for transport from Michigan to California and the external data showed a high likelihood of delay because of weather,\u201d Althoff wrote. \u201cIn that scenario, an alert would be triggered to customer service agents and operations planners, who could then put the shipment on another flight. It\u2019s the difference between the vaccine getting to California on time and ready to go or not.\u201d\nMoreover, the ML capabilities mean that for every package shipped Surround will analyze past trends to identify ways to optimize shipping in the future.\nFedEx product and leadership teams came to Microsoft\u2019s Redmond, Wash., headquarters in early 2020 to plan how Surround would work. Recognizing the \u201chuge logistical challenge\u201d and importance of tracking COVID-19 vaccines and other critical shipments, the companies convened several remote meetings comprising hundreds of people to develop Surround, Althoff says.\nAlgorithmic foresight is a growing trend in logistics, according to Gartner. The researcher says the availability of supply chain data, including IoT data and weather patterns, enables enterprises to extrapolate the current environment to better understand future scenarios and make pro\ufb01table recommendations.\n\u201cWith more available and reliable data, organizations are leveraging analytics to sense the disruption, comprehend its magnitude and impact on the supply chain, and formulate a response,\u201d Gartner analysts Bart De Muynck and Carly West wrote in an August 2020 report.\nFedEx is leaning into these trends as it seeks to help fulfill the mission of Operation Warp Speed, the federal plan for vaccination distribution. To ramp up their production, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is contemplating invoking the Defense Production Act, which would help meet his stated goal of giving 100 million shots in his first 100 days of office.\n\u201cWe believe the future of IoT and sensor-based logistics is now,\u201d Carter says.