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The IoT Effect on Supply Chain Visibility

The Internet of Things stirs the imagination, conjuring up all sort of cool machine-to-machine connectivity aimed at improving and changing the way we live, work and interact with our devices. But it also has started to get people thinking about not just the what-if scenarios, but also the everyday practical things that could benefit or harm the electronics supply chain and logistics.

EFT's latest paper, IoT Package (register here for download), highlights some of the things on electronics executives are mulling over and finding ways to work through. Here are three main points that came up at EFT's recent industry events where IoT was on people's mind: 

  1. Improving location tracking. Many people are considering how to move from manual and selective logistics and inventory-tracking processes managed with barcodes to sensor-based visibility strategies that need less manual intervention. In his presentation, Peter Back, operations director at Zebra Technologies Europe, talked about the functionality that IoT promises to deliver in terms of locating tracked objects and containers, the condition of tracked objects, and the location of tracked personnel, among other operational concerns.
  2. Increasing device security. Pascal Fernandez, vice president of business development at Avnet, mentioned in his Supply Chain of Things talk  how the IoT raises red flags about devices being less secure. While connectivity and software are becoming important corporate investments as IoT rolls out, worries about traceability surface more frequently. Also trying to figure which devices and partners to connect and how to connect them along with deciding what data to aggregate and share are some of the main things Avnet is working on.
  3. Managing big data and visualizing complexity. “There is a significant opportunity to leverage big data in supply chain, logistics and across the enterprise,” wrote Fred Hartung, vice president of supply chain solutions and logistics at Jabil Circuit, here. The evolution of information availability and its use for intelligent decision making related to suppliers, customers and internal operations will help shape visibility practices and supply chain processes.

Filtering the vastness of the Internet of Things through an idea of how embedded computing has helped evolve existing business practices is useful. As Arlen Nipper, co-founder, president and chief technology officer at Cirrus Link, said in this Ted Talk, “Across the industrial sector, the Internet of Things technology, the notion, is truly helping us. But we're talking about 'things' here and these 'things' are embedded computers. Embedded computers have been around for 40 years now.”

From there, though, its gets complicated. People's IoT perceptions, complex layers of integration and other existing networking interconnectivity become stumbling blocks for tapping into the full IoT benefits, particularly from a supply chain and operations side.

“That's what we have today is not an Internet of Things. We have an Internet of RFID, and Internet of telematics, an Internet of devices. We have an Internet of these proprietary data silos. We don't have the Internet of Things yet,” he said, adding that this is evolving further and tools that allow different systems and communications protocols will ease this interaction and help separate the applications from the data.

In the meantime, how are you bridging your supply chain and logistics practices with your IoT strategy?

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