by Maryfran Johnson

The Dangers of Disconnected Data

Jun 25, 2013 3 mins
Data Management Healthcare Industry

CIOs in the food and pharma industries confront unique challenges in untangling complex supply chains to ensure product safety and availability.

Our lives are so steeped in data of all kinds that we’ve grown quite accustomed to the sheer volume and scope of digitized information. We assume that it’s stashed in some sophisticated system somewhere, delivered by powerful networks to countless destinations, hopefully for all the right reasons.

We also assume it’s ultimately trackable, don’t we? That’s what traditional systems of record have always been about. Accountability. Traceability.

So it comes as a shock to realize how perilously disconnected some of our most important public safety data–the life-protecting kind involving our food and drug supplies–has actually become. That’s the focus of our sobering cover story this month (“Outdated Tech in the Supply Chain Threatens Public Safety”). And there’s no happy ending to this story in sight.

When a serious threat arises (like the 2006 outbreak of deadly bacteria in bagged spinach), it’s maddeningly difficult to trace the problem backward in the food supply chain, reports Managing Editor Kim S. Nash. Data disconnects also threaten public safety in other ways, most notably in shortages of vital medications such as cancer drugs and anesthetics.

“CIOs who want to keep their companies out from under news headlines about ever-expanding or botched recalls must understand that you won’t know how good your supply chain traceability is until you have to run it in reverse,” Nash writes.

This was a tough story to get CIOs on the record discussing. The topic is controversial, frustrating and strewn with regulatory pitfalls. So we’re especially grateful to CIO Patty Morrison of Cardinal Health for her willingness to talk in detail about how this $108 billion drug distributor is using predictive analytics and other technologies to “look forward” into its massive supply chain to spot potential shortages.

Another CIO who helped out was Randy Gaboriault of Christiana Care Health System. Lacking internal systems for predicting drug shortages, the pharmacy staff at this 1,100-bed hospital center must monitor potential problems by watching the Food and Drug Administration’s website, checking in with suppliers, and then stockpiling vital medications.

Finding an eventual solution to this thorny problem requires a fundamental behavioral change for food and drug companies: tearing down some old confidentiality habits and sharing data with competitors, government agencies and even the public. How do you think CIOs can help make this happen? Write in and share your ideas.

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. Email her at

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