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IoT ushers in a new era for supply chain fulfillment

The internet of things has come a long way from the early 1980s when programmers were able to check drink availability by connecting to a Coca-Cola machine located at Carnegie Melon University via the internet. Today, far more wide-reaching uses for IoT have emerged. For businesses that play an active role in supply chain fulfillment, IoT benefits are significant.

Making internet-enabled sensors much smaller and more affordable, along with advances in mobile connectivity, have driven an increase in the number of IoT use cases. These sensors, often the size of a hockey puck, can transmit vital information to other devices in a way not possible just a few years ago. The ability to analyze and make sense of the vast amount of data collected have also helped propel IoT adoption.

Innovative organizations are addressing how IoT can streamline key business processes and optimize the supply chain. Below are ways IoT is already helping to streamline the supply chain:

1. Providing a holistic view

Using IoT technology, supply chain managers can connect their vehicles, equipment and devices to gain instant status updates on jobs. This can offer a full picture across the supply chain, from the warehouse to stakeholders and customers. For example, rather than seeing a job status listed as “with courier” or “in transit,” managers can see an item’s exact location. With this information, supply chain managers can make intelligent and timely decisions that will keep goods moving efficiently. It also helps them deliver other benefits across the business such as reducing costs and ensuring compliance.

2. Increasing collaboration

When different components are sourced across disparate suppliers and locations, it’s easy for these centers within the supply chain to organize into silos. Using 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 identify potential bottlenecks earlier, make smarter strategic decisions and boost productivity.

3. Optimizing operations and assets

Supply chain managers can also optimize the operations of their fleets as a result of improved connectivity. They can provide smarter route planning and identify assets stuck in traffic, as well as track utilization rates to monitor the efficiency of assets. This enables managers to schedule the optimal number of jobs for each asset. With a deeper understanding about how assets are utilized and performing, business operations can be fine-tuned. This helps increase productivity and enables supply chain managers to schedule more deliveries or dispatches per day. When multiplied across a fleet and the entire supply chain, this has the potential to bring a huge boost to a business’ bottom line; studies have shown more effective routing and utilization can reduce driver hours by almost 25%.

4. Delivering better customer service

A more connected supply chain not only helps provide a boost to efficiency, it helps deliver better customer service. Businesses can access information in the office or on mobile apps to track exactly where an item is at any time, so that forecasting delivery times becomes more exact. Potential issues can then be identified sooner and the customer contacted to manage their expectations or make alternative arrangements to ensure service level agreements are met. The connected fleet also allows for automation of status updates, helping customers stay informed and reducing inbound inquiries to customer centers.

5. Ensuring compliance

The real-time visibility provided by IoT also allows supply chain managers to ensure their assets are performing as they should be and that their organizations remain compliant. For example, IoT can help ensure drivers are obeying road rules, taking required breaks, filing correct paperwork and performing the appropriate safety checks. It can also keep track of vehicle health, to make sure appropriate vehicle maintenance is completed when it should be, such as ensuring tires are changed and services are carried out. If goods need to be transported in certain conditions, for example, kept within a certain temperature range, a more connected fleet can enable managers to see real-time temperatures of their cargo.

While there is still significant room for the further development of IoT technology, for supply chain managers or operations directors, there are steps that can be taken now to start seeing the benefits of this 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. Supply chain managers that act now are setting themselves and their organizations up for success in the future.

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