Few parts of enterprise operations have transformed more radically over the years than supply chain — as companies struggle to navigate globalized sourcing, the rise of just-in-time delivery models for manufacturing and, most importantly, unprecedented customer expectations for product availability and speed of delivery.
Ironically, while companies are using extended supply chain networks and heavy outsourcing to meet these challenges, the solutions they come up with create a big new problem of their own in the form of lost visibility. As we’ll see in the post, lost visibility into your supply chain means lost value. The good news is that the right telematics and related technologies can help maintain powerful visibility and control over even the most complex supply chain networks in service today.
Visibility = value
Among the many impacts of the Amazon effect is the heightened demand for consumer visibility into availability and shipping logistics, from the first mile to the last. Not surprisingly, businesses see value in getting the right supply chain visibility to meet those customer expectations and ensure efficiencies in their own operations.
The hurdles come in trying to actually implement in some tough supply chain use cases. For instance, think back to the Amazon effect and the prototypical example of a book. Supply chain visibility into that book is one thing, but what if your supply chain involves highly volatile, highly valuable pharmaceutical cargo that’s environmentally sensitive? You’d want nuanced, real-time and real-world data and analytics to keep that kind of sensitive cargo on track. Smart sensors and granular data mean we can provide real-time operational intelligence to not only reduce the risk of cargo theft and spoilage, but also document compliance with regulations and drive operational efficiencies that benefit everyone, from shippers to the end consumer.
Connecting systems for stronger solutions
For many, additional possibilities come to life when you realize that, rather than scrap all your existing, limited capabilities in favor of some brand new system, you can create new visibility by integrating and strategically augmenting many of the capabilities you already have.
For instance, look at any tractor-trailer on the highway today and you’ll likely see a telematics device in the cab to track location, a separate system that’s monitoring cargo temperature and a third system for security to protect the valuable cargo from theft or tampering. That’s a lot of duplication of systems and services for what remains silos of uncoordinated insight.
What if we instead choose to fold in point solutions and targeted capabilities together with larger “system of systems” integrations that create more sophisticated outcomes — like the difference between assisted braking and full autonomous drive?
That last auto analogy is not random. Tesla took years of laying the sensors, telematics, actuators and other infrastructure into its vehicles — the cars were preemptively designed to operate and engage these sophisticated systems that wouldn’t be enabled for more than a year into the future. That point in the future came when Tesla finally downloaded its first AutoPilot program to users who — literally overnight — were able to suddenly enable new capabilities from latent technology.
Making it reality
So, now that we realize we’re not starting from scratch — that we can use some of the same capabilities we might already have, but in more integrated and orchestrated ways — how do we make this transition while keeping our business running? In other words, once we realize we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we’re still faced with having to change the wheels for supply chain visibility while our business is moving at full speed.
The best way to go about it is to focus on the infrastructure first and then introduce the capabilities when the time is right. Think back to our tractor-trailer example: We’re faced with having to pick the best system — perhaps see whose contract is up for renewal or whose existing infrastructure is most interoperable — and weigh everything as a business decision. One way or another, try to introduce some coordinated technical standards and interoperable infrastructure for the telematics throughout your supply chain.
When you think about it, these ideas make total sense. So, why haven’t we seen more people connect the dots? My sense is that sometimes you don’t see an advanced solution until you’ve made enough progress in the industry to uncover the advanced business problem behind that solution to begin with.
At least, that’s why supply chain visibility is on our minds so much here at CalAmp. We’re in a position as a market leader in telematics not only to see what connectivity and telematics can do today for supply chain visibility, but also connect the dots on what those capabilities can be tomorrow if we bring the right vision, strategies and tools to the market.
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