THE INTERNET OF THINGS IS HERE:
IS YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN READY?
by Tim Foster, Managing Director of Asia-Pacific, Chainalytics
Remember the information superhighway? How about Web 2.0? Today, the buzz is all about the Internet of Things (IoT), which is simply defined as physical objects with unique identifiers with the ability to transfer data to each other. Today, 15 billion devices are connected to the internet. By 2020, this number is expected to grow to 50 billion.
Many sectors and industries are making the most of IoT, for example, leveraging Industrial IoT (IIot) and other connectivity techniques and strategies in areas like manufacturing, with equipment constantly communicating and integrating with larger information systems, to transform data into intelligence that helps guide processes distribution and asset utilisation.
Whether you assign the moniker of “Internet of Things” to these manufacturing and operational process upgrades or not, if you are a multinational doing business in the APAC region, chances are you are currently exploring or already firmly on board with what the technology space is already buzzing about.
But what is the next step for IoT in larger supply chain strategies? Reaching beyond the walls of manufacturing facilities, this new level of information gathering is beginning to intersect with big data and equipping itself to provide highly accurate demand forecasting and predictive analytics for collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment and asset management. IoT is not an endgame; it is a bridge for accelerating the sharing of data–often cloud-enabled–that increasingly enables better decisions, planning and execution for smarter supply chains that can achieve higher levels of automation and new efficiencies and enhanced customer experience.
Don’t worry if you are not completely connected yet — for many companies, IoT strategies are still in the planning stages. However, IoT is rapidly cialisvsviagranow becoming reality for companies operating throughout the globe and many parts of the APAC region, many of which benefit from recently installed, high-grade infrastructure that can support extremely high data volumes. Falling behind the curve could put your firm at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace and with your suppliers, distributors, trading partners and customers, so it can important to understand the challenges of IoT implementation and how to overcome them.
New technology, new way of thinking
Whenever new technology is introduced into the market, implementing it requires understanding how it fits into existing design. When this technology is an evolution, a bit of finesse and reorganisation is often all that is required to work it into a product. But when a technological revolution happens, engineering problems have to be solved in order to include the new functionality.
IoT represents such a revolution. Designing a product with IoT capabilities requires sensors, gauges, and connectivity that may not have previously been part of the equation. Furthermore, the information provided by this new capability must be included in applications that drive functionality. The biggest hurdle in achieving this is that incorporating the necessary components of IoT often draws on disciplines not inherent in the company manufacturing the product.
When this occurs, the only options are to train internal product development and engineering staffs to get them up to speed, or to partner with external companies that possess the necessary expertise. The best option depends on a number of factors unique to the companies and processes involved, but most companies will see a quicker rampup through strategic partnerships with experts in the areas where the necessary knowledge is lacking.
Using IoT to add values for customers
If you are old enough to remember when the World Wide Web began, you will also remember a slew of interesting, but mostly useless websites. Fan pages for candy, hate pages dedicated to exgirlfriends, and galleries of offbeat images ruled the day. Almost no enterprises had presences on the web, and those who did will not quite sure why or how to leverage them effectively. It took time for things like e-commerce and digital marketing to emerge, and that is when the true value of having a presence online–as well as the value of enabling technologies like ERP, became apparent.
Today, companies are in more or less the same “evolutionary place” — trying to determine the best way to leverage the value of IoT from a customer perspective. That requires connecting solutions to consumer value drivers to optimise the customer experience.
The fundamental question to ask when considering IoT is, “how can the market and customer trends, data and the inherent intelligence embedded in IoT data be mined to benefit my supply chain and my customers and provide them with additional value-added services or products?” Adjusting production to respond to demand patterns and predicting asset breakdown and maintenance are the touted advantages of IoT in industry today. But remember, these functions only hold value when they translate into tangible benefits for consumers.
Data, data everywhere
The use of Big Data for analysis and strategic advantage is exploding. And the IoT revolution adds to adding even more data into the mix. It is easy to understand what data is meaningless once it has been analysed and converted into information, and ultimately intelligence; but the trick is to understand which raw data in IoT contributes value so precious analysis bandwidth is not wasted on data that will not yield anything meaningful or actionable.
Ensuring that master data, or fundamental data, is up to par is the first step in building IoT-based intelligence that creates value. It is literally the foundation for all the data that comes after it and will negate the value of further analysis if it is not rock solid. Therefore, before engaging on the journey to acquire more information, it is vital to establish high quality master data. Furthermore, developing the ideal protocols and methodologies for analysing new data will save on headaches down the road.
Much like thinking about new technology, analysing data can fall outside the expertise of many companies. Data analysis requires either developing internal capabilities or partnering with a company that is expert in this space and can get your team up to speed with mastering data analysis. Once your firm has solid master data in place and the teams and tools that will analyse further data are ready, additions to your IoT arsenal will add real value to your company and your customers.