Commentary | Supply Chain Perspectives

Supply Chain in the Cloud: How Tech Is Reshaping Logistics

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Cloud Computing, Logistics, Supply Chain, Visibility

Kyle Martin is Content Coordinator, Florida Polytechnic University

In warehouses, on roads, and in corporate offices, technology is evolving every facet of logistics. From basic improvements like streamlining operations and increasing process efficiency to fully automating delivery trucks, technology is enabling much smarter, simpler supply chain management.

Below are three emerging technologies reshaping the logistics industry:

RFID Technologies

The replacement of traditional barcodes with RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies has revolutionized the supply chain sector, ensuring the right goods are at the right place at the right time–down to the minute. From preventing machine breakdowns to ensuring temperature-sensitive shipments remain within specifications, RFID technologies have significantly improved the many facets of supply chain management.

Real-time RFID insights allow supply chain managers to measure the time it takes for each step in the production cycle. This enables them to pinpoint process bottlenecks and devise new ways to ensure shipments reach their destinations on time. With RFID technologies, products can be scanned, counted, and registered in an organization’s system simultaneously, directly saving time and costs once allocated for human labor. Additionally, manufacturers can track and monitor the frequency of machine maintenance using RFID, preventing costly production breakdowns.

Cloud Integration

Traditional supply chain management systems are rudimentary, transactional, and lack the real-time accuracy and 360-degree visibility available with cloud-based management software. Integrating cloud-based technologies into logistics makes it possible to digitally track a product throughout each stage of its lifecycle. This reduces the frequency of lost products, synchronizes shipment components, and updates current inventory records in near real-time. According to Gartner’s research vice president, cloud-based software in logistics is estimated to increase by 40 percent in 2017, primarily because of its ability to connect teams and monitor the exact whereabouts of a shipment.

Additionally, cloud-based technologies are universally accessible, which means systems can be accessed from virtually any location, at any time. Everyone from drivers to account managers can log into the cloud to download relevant files, or communicate the status of a shipment on any internet-enabled device.

Because cloud systems are hosted externally, it’s also easier for companies to grow without the pains of overhauling entire internal IT systems. Expanding a company’s cloud service can happen at the click of a button, and at a fraction of the cost, because cloud providers have the off-site computing power to easily accommodate increased bandwidth.

IoT Enhancements

Similar to the impact of RFID and cloud-based software in logistics, the Internet of Things will influence supply chain management in profound ways. Historically, the IoT was used in logistics as a way to connect multiple technologies to increase the efficiency of the supply chain manufacturing process. This reduced system lag time and improved shipment workflow.

Today, IoT in logistics is integrated in the overall management of a supply chain. Specifically, IoT technologies communicate with Bluetooth, RFIDs, and cloud technologies to quickly organize, monitor, and route products to meet the growing demand of consumers and providers.

An example that ties IoT, RFID, and cloud technologies together is found in General Motors’ monitoring systems. The company positioned a network of RFID sensors into a handful of its manufacturing facilities to measure humidity levels. If humidity exceeds the acceptable levels for painting car bodies, RFIDs notify ‘smart’ conveyor belts, so the next vehicle will be automatically rerouted to a different stage in the manufacturing process not affected by humidity.

To keep pace with the advancements in technology, continued education is necessary for supply chain managers and other similar STEM careers in logistics. While logistics companies typically offer continued education programs, universities offer bachelor and master’s level logistics degree programs to ensure the next generation of supply chain managers are up to date on the latest technologies.