The Internet of Things Is Coming to the Omnichannel Supply Chain

Published : April 16, 2015

man-holding-the-internetThe idea of an "Internet of Things" is a concept infused with a lot of excitement in the consumer wearables and home environment, but what does it mean for your business as you work toward omnichannel distribution? Business thrives with structure, and the natural disruption that smart data brings to the party seems incompatible at a glance. Properly leveraged, however, these connected devices and tools are poised to utterly redefine the way we map a route to success—elevating competitiveness beyond the wildest dreams of any supply chain or operations leader only 20 years ago and smoothing the transition into omnichannel fulfillment.

The Lovechild of RFID and GPS

Imagine receiving a shipment where a quick visual scan for freight damage is your only concern.

For high-volume receiving departments, being able to skip the laborious invoice cross-offs and data entry into the SKU system translates to incredible amounts of time and cost savings. With RFID technology becoming cheaper and more accessible, Inbound Logistic's Udaya Shankar muses that soon individual SKUs can be linked to separate RFID tags, enabling a company to "receive" a shipment in one fell swoop. This link will also allow both a supplier and their client to watch the shipment travel in real time, reducing time-consuming check in emails, calls and emergencies.

Real Time Asset Protection

The days where company assets and machinery can be misplaced, lost or stolen are coming to a close. With everything from desk computers to vehicles linked to accessible cloud-based dashboards, tracking the position of company possessions has never been easier. Steve Banker of Forbes explains that this visibility could even increase efficiency in applications such as vending machines. If employees tasked with filling the machines are able to check fill levels before ever burning gas and mileage, the company as a whole benefits from a better use of their time.

Important Decisions Made Faster With Data, Not Hunches

Where achieving a balance of proper stock and future demand insurance used to be a guessing game, Suhas Sreedhar of GT Nexus imagines that future innovations such as smart warehouse shelving will be able to transfer vital data to decision-makers in real time. In addition, rather than relying on periodic audits that are often tinged with human error, these wired-in tools can deliver a steady stream of trends, right down to the day of the month or even hour of the day. This will, in turn, lead to less waste in an omni-channel distribution scheme, more reliable refill order placement and even more space for important assets.

What It Means for Security

It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of what the IoT could offer, but as any business professional knows, the liabilities it exposes are worth equal consideration. Considering how interwoven technology already is within the supply chain, increased transparency will make your data an even more tempting target for hackers. New program interfaces will be necessary to run and process the new data streams, and with them come new loopholes, complications and bugs.

Mark O’Neill of Supply Management cautions those companies already gearing up for full steam ahead: if solutions to data risk aren't formulated alongside IoT business applications, industries run the risk of getting deeply entrenched in a movement that could end up drowning them.

The answer is to temper the introduction of new IoT tech with a watchful eye towards cautionary tales and potential issues. There should always be an "off" button, and if a company elects to use IoT smart devices in their warehousing or workflows, a stable, realistic plan should be in place in case of accidental or malicious exposure.

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Topics: Supply Chain Technology

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