Planning for the IoT and the Future of Your Supply Chain

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been noticeable across every aspect of everyday life, from controlling the lights in our homes to tracking the way we shop. It’s no surprise that it’s also having a huge influence behind the scenes of the supply chain, altering and improving processes from end-to-end to enable retailers to compete within the ever-changing digital landscape.

IoT refers to the internet working of physical devices such as vehicles and buildings, which are embedded with new software and sensors that enable the device to collect and exchange real-time data. This data can then be applied to improve efficiency, make services more personalized, or create new user experiences. When applied to manufacturing and the supply chain, this data can be utilized to bring to life a more streamlined process that runs faster, cheaper, and with fewer mistakes than traditional methods—all of which are vital to keeping up with the increasing customer expectations from e-commerce.

In 2014, there were 1.8 million tracking devices in use on trailers, containers and pallets, allowing organizations to keep track of where their assets were at all times. The benefits of the IoT developments go much further than location tracking though. As it advances, this new technology is being seen as the 5th mobile generation of wireless systems coming into action, beyond the existing 4G signal. This new generation of networks is envisioned to solve the challenge of joining communications and computing together—i.e. entirely for connecting the IoT, leaving 4G focused on ‘human’ connections. This will allow for complex, real-time feeds of data, such as detailed inventory tracking, which not only allows retailers compete visibility of how much stock is being held and where, but also if it’s being held in the right conditions—for example the temperature and humidity of the warehouse at any given moment and receiving alerts if it goes outside of the necessary levels.

Further back in the process, the new technology will also help retailers and businesses to optimize their own supply chain, by monitoring the product lifecycle to incorporate various product performance measurements. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems will be able to monitor parts that need replacing, automatically sending an alert before a fault occurs. Similarly, demand forecasting for manufacturers will mean devices that need ongoing support or supplies, for example, printing machines, can effectively monitor themselves, checking levels and automatically placing replacement orders when supplies are low, so there’s no need for additional, expensive excess inventory to be ordered and stored, and businesses can stay focused on what they do best. Over time, this will also be able to predict seasonal highs and lows—both for the individual business and the industry as a whole—and pre-empt when demand will be high to alert users and increase stock levels.

For manufacturers and retailers, the IoT will also give previously unimaginable insights into their products when they are actually in use, helping them to refine their offerings, provide predictive maintenance and receive invaluable data on their audiences.

When you look at all of these factors combined, it becomes clear that the Internet of Things is set to change the supply chain in its entirety. By adapting the core dynamics of business processes from marketing to final mile delivery, the IoT will streamline and optimize to never before possible levels, dramatically impacting the supply chain for the better.

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