How Technology Can Connect the Global Supply Chain

Getting a product or component from one place to another may sound like a simple task. However, as supply chain experts, we all know it involves a collection of efforts, a variety of players and a whole lot of hands. As most of us are also aware, ensuring an item gets where it needs to go on time and in good condition adds even more complexity to the mix.

Yet many businesses today send out their goods with very limited visibility into what happens to them after they leave the loading dock. And they do only minimal analysis of how best to get their products where they need to go. So, they simply hope for the best.

That lack of visibility and control continues throughout the supply chain.

As each new supply chain stakeholder touches a shipment, that entity creates new documents related to the deliverable. Often, much of that information is the same data noted by stakeholders earlier or later in the supply chain. But there’s no seamless sharing of data, so there’s lot of data duplication and manual information entry at all points along the way. Because some of that information is recorded by hand and on paper, documents are often difficult to read and can get lost in the shuffle. 

Connected technology can help solve the supply chain challenges of data duplication, legibility, predictability and visibility. Here’s how.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Pulling it together

Technology can bring the different actions, data and players of a supply chain into a common information layer. That makes it easier to find details about shippers, shipments and their locations, and relevant documents. And this scenario applies whether the product travels by air, ground, or sea.

Blockchain technology can make all that possible. It builds the information – including customs documents and the bills of lading – as the supply chain progresses. It eliminates paper and centralizes data. Plus, permissions-based blockchain can allow users to decide who in the supply chain is able to view what data. The supply chain becomes much faster and more efficient as a result.

Keeping tabs on what’s happening

Internet of Things (IoT) technology also provides greater visibility into the supply chain.

Traditionally supply chain stakeholders got shipment updates via email or SMS. But the needs of stakeholders are evolving. Now they want more, and more current, information on the condition and whereabouts of their products.

IoT enables that by placing sensors in containers. Those sensors and related infrastructure can give businesses updates at the intervals of their choice.

A pharmaceutical or seafood provider might want hourly updates on container temperature. A grower might employ IoT technology to get current data on humidity within its flower shipment. And an electronics company might want updates on both humidity and temperature.

Such updates may allow companies to address such conditions. They also can use the data to assess if their products were adversely affected if conditions fell outside an acceptable range.

Going paperless

Mobility also can reduce paperwork and increase profitability across the supply chain.

Filling out, keeping track of and scanning paperwork is extremely inefficient. That’s why so many organizations are moving to paperless processes.

In a supply chain, people can use smartphones and tablets to scan codes on containers. Those scans populate users’ mobile devices with everything they need to know about the shipment upon its arrival. That’s a lot more efficient than somebody writing down a shipment number, walking to a computer, inputting that number and pulling up the details.

Learning from past experience

Predictive analytics also will be important for the supply chain of the future. What’s great about this technology is it allows businesses to create what-if scenarios. That can help businesses fine-tune their processes and get their products to market faster. 

Imagine a business is sending smartphones from the U.S. to China. Every year when its new device comes out, the manufacturer’s shipment never makes it to China on the scheduled date. And the manufacturer doesn’t even know why or when it might get there. 

But a manufacturer could look at the past to predict future outcomes. A manufacturer in Dallas might see that the products it sent through Houston arrived in China in one to three days. But those that went by way of Miami saw a five- to seven-week delay. 

Then again, maybe a shipment at a different time of year arrived faster by way of Miami. In this case, the shipment went out during Texas hurricane season. And it sat in Houston waiting for the weather to clear.

Predictive analytics can help businesses assess which routes are better during what times of year. That can increase their chances of getting product to market faster next time around.

Embracing the future

These are just a few examples of how the transportation and cargo industry can benefit from more tech-enabled processes. To remain competitive, the industry needs a shakeup, to embrace new technologies and their power to boost efficiency, save money and create new business opportunities. 

Innovative technology can change the way processes in air freight work. Most importantly, predictive analytics, blockchain, IoT and mobility all have the potential to change the way the supply chain operates and revolutionize current workflows.

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