How digital supply chain management, the broad concept that cloud-based systems, analytics and monitoring of goods, vehicles and other assets via the Internet of Things will improve the way supply chains run, is a major concern for many logistics organizations today. We know its coming, but how many have a clear understanding of the technology and its applications? Similar terms like digitalization or Industry 4.0, digital supply chain management spans multiple technologies and includes its fair share of buzzwords but how will it all work?
Clearly, digitalization will change supply chains, but our understanding of how it will play out is a work in progress. Breaking down some of the enabling technologies should help logistics managers figure out how to embrace this new era. Technologies like predictive analytics, better visibility over the movement of goods, and robotics that help warehouses and distributions centers will all play a role in digital supply chain management.
Here are the top applications to watch for;
One of the hallmarks of digital supply chains will be the ability to see and understand the activities and events of multiple players. The transition will be from inward-facing digital supply chains where optimization is defined internally by a company, to an end-to-end digital supply chain in which you’re optimizing beyond the walls of one company, and instead optimizing across the walls of multiple key supply chain partners. These network-focused visibility solutions will come from technology suppliers who use terms like global trading networks or global commerce hubs to describe the inter-enterprise focus of their solution.
Merge IoT with app processes
For the IoT data to be more useful within supply chain management software foundations, software vendors will need to do more to ensure that sensor data can be leveraged within applications. In effect, relevant data from the IoT needs to be made actionable in solutions such as transportation management systems. For example, IoT-based cold chain monitoring should be able to tie in with shipment information. What you need is to be able to append that digital sensor data to a shipment, if the shipment has gone out of a specified protection range. Because the IoT can stream large data volumes, it’s also important that IoT platforms are able to separate relevant exceptions from the flood of data. By embedding the right exceptions or state changes from sensors, relevant changes become part of the end-to-end process for the extended supply chain, ensuring the process proceeds with integrity. This sounds like a mouthful of technology, but it makes sense.
The IoT is great at using telematics, sensors and geo-positioning signals from devices to pinpoint location and condition of assets, but much of the IoT’s value will come using that awareness to make better decisions. Ensuring the input data accuracy is the key. What’s different in this digital age is all the awareness that can be achieved from all the different points of information programmed. Transportation is already seeing a nice lift from tools that do things like watch for real-time feeds on weather and traffic data, and dynamically reroute a truck if it’s not going to get from point A to point B on schedule. That’s just one example of scenario-based, contingency planning, enabled by a technology based, digital supply chain. The new analytics and scenario-planning engines might draw on some master data from conventional systems, but it will likely be distinct planning platforms that can take in IoT-based information and support planning, which crosses traditional departmental domains. It is believed that this historical and real time data will aid in contingency planning.
IoT, smart roads and predictive analytics
Real-time monitoring of trucks, vehicles and goods in transit via the IoT has been around, says Timothy Leonard, executive vice president of technology for TMW Systems, and is only getting more capable as the number and sophistication of sensors and IoT infrastructure improves.
According to Leonard, formerly a technology executive with General Motors, as sensors on trucks and trailers are becoming more numerous, they’re getting smarter and more capable of monitoring different conditions. Additionally, governments in places such as Ohio with its Smart Mobility Corridor program are embedding fiber optic cable and sensors right into roads to create “smart roads” that can help pinpoint congestion or weather trends. I'm impressed with the accuracy of GPS which has been around for over a decade. Technology applications on the horizon are interesting.