The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) has come a long way since the first ‘internet refrigerator’ was launched back in 2000. While connected fridges still aren’t mainstream, many far more practical uses for the IoT have emerged. For businesses that play an active role in supply chain fulfilment, the benefits are proving to be significant.
The increasing number of use cases for the IoT have been driven by advances in mobile connectivity, making Internet-enabled sensors much smaller and more affordable. These sensors, often the size of a hockey puck, can transmit vital information to other devices in a way could only be dreamt of back when the concept of the IoT was born. The ability to analyze and make sense of the vast amount of data collected has also helped propel the adoption of IoT tech. While we are only on the cusp of the IoT revolution, forward-thinking organizations are already starting to think about how it can streamline key processes and optimize the supply chain. There are five key ways the IoT is already helping to streamline the supply chain.
- 1. Increased visibility
The IoT allows supply chain managers to connect their vehicles, equipment and devices to gain to-the-minute status updates on jobs. This can offer a full picture across the supply chain, from the warehouse, to different stakeholders and customers. For example, rather than seeing a job status listed as ‘with courier’ or ‘in transit’, managers can see the exact location. With this information, they can make intelligent and timely decisions that will keep goods moving efficiently. It also helps deliver other benefits across the business such as reducing costs and aiding with compliance.
- 2. Encouraging collaboration
The rise of the IoT enables organizations to take a much more holistic view of how their supply chain impacts business. It is particularly important for more complex supply chains, where different parts or components are sourced across disparate suppliers and locations. In these circumstances, it’s easy to organise these centres into silos. The IoT across the supply chain gives decision makers real-time details on job statuses across the entire chain, and helps break down silos. Increased collaboration across business areas can help to identify potential issues or bottlenecks earlier, make smarter strategic decisions, and boost productivity.
- 3. Maximizing assets
Improved connectivity allows supply chain managers to optimize fleets. They can provide smarter route planning and identify assets stuck in traffic and. They can also track utilization rates to monitor the efficiency of assets, enabling managers to schedule the optimal number of jobs for each asset. With a deeper understanding of how assets are utilized and performing, business operations can be fine-tuned. This helps increase productivity and enables supply chain managers to help schedule more deliveries or dispatches per day. When multiplied across a fleet and the entire supply chain, this could bring a huge boost to a business’ bottom line. For example, studies have shown more effective routing and utilization can reduce driver hours by almost 25%.
- 4. Bolstering customer service
A more connected supply chain not only helps boost efficiency, it helps deliver better customer service. Managers can access information in the office or on mobile apps to track exactly where an item is at any given moment, so that forecasting delivery times becomes a more exact science. Managers can then identify any potential issues sooner, contact the customer to manage their expectations, or make alternative arrangements to ensure Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are met. The connected fleet also allows for automation of status updates for customers, helping them stay informed and reducing inbound enquiries to customer centres
- 5. Remaining compliant
The IoT doesn’t just help track the location of assets across the supply chain, it can look at other key elements such as driver behaviour and vehicle diagnostics. Real-time visibility allows supply chain managers to ensure their assets are performing as they should be and that the organisation remains compliant. For example, it helps ensure drivers are obeying road rules, taking required breaks, filing correct paperwork and performing the appropriate safety checks before setting off. It can also keep track of vehicle health, to make sure appropriate vehicle maintenance is carried out when it should be – for example ensuring tyres are changed and services are carried out. If goods need to be transported in certain conditions, for example kept in a certain temperature range, a more connected fleet can enable managers to see real-time temperatures of their cargo. These features remove some of the headaches from compliance.
While the IoT promises so much and its implementation is only in its infancy – for supply chain managers or operations directors, there are steps they can take now to start seeing the benefits of the technology revolution. The key is to have a Mobile Resource Management software platform that can collect all the data from connected devices and help turn it into easy-to-understand and actionable insights. Those that do, are setting themselves up for success in the future.