Why visibility over shipments is important
Visibility over shipments is the hot supply chain topic these days. Corporations are eager to know where their shipments are at all moment.
Consumer expectations for rapid and low-cost business in a global and highly competitive environment prompt shippers to provide better and faster services.
Globalization is increasing too and it makes supply chain wider and more complex.
More than ever companies need solutions for shipments tracking to know where shipments are at every stage and in real time. And a carrier need to take that into consideration to provide a better service too.
The challenge is that there are many ways to do this, and recent progress in technologies have made powerful supply chain visibility solutions available to track shipments from their tracking number. IoT and digital tracking are the most recent and promising supply chain visibility enabler.
The power of IOT & digital tracking.
Using connected devices to track shipment by collecting data about the shipment status, location, and route is not exactly new. Such supply chain solutions exist since several years. But despite market study prediction, the use of IoT devices to track shipment is not so widespread yet. What are the reasons for that?
Mainly cost, power consumption, and coverage issues are responsible of limited use of connected sensors to track goods.
‘Traditional’ IoT technologies use sensors connected to cellular networks and GPS technology: such tracking devices are expensive to manufacture and have short battery life.
Consequently, the cost to use such visibility solution is expensive and the return on investment of its use in the supply chain not obvious. This explains why IoT technology has been used as visibility solution mainly in the supply chain of high-value goods.
In addition, power-hungry GPS or cellular tracking devices and sensors could not be used for global supply chain visibility: they could not be used to track shipments such as intercontinental sea freight or international shipments with long transit time. The battery would be discharge before the end of the shipment.
The new IoT networks called LPWA (Low Power Wide Area Network) have changed the deal. Actually low-power IoT technologies complement existing loT networks. They opened possibilities for smart IoT solutions with low power and cost-effective tracking devices. The connected sensors can be put at the package level and transmit data through networks such as the Sigfox network which provide global coverage. As a result, these low power and cost-effective IoT tracking solutions make a return on investment in the supply chain easier. It becomes possible to use these sensors to track shipments with long transit time. Moreover, such low-power IoT devices also make possible the re-use of the tracking devices which opens interesting value potential of IoT when providing better supply chain visibility.
In the past decade, have emerged supply chain visibility solutions that relied on data aggregation technologies. These solutions aggregate data from various sources, and associated to the shipment number transmitted by the carrier. Then, they analyze and standardize these data with machine learning and data-science capabilities to make them actionable and available through cloud platforms. Shippers can access to the information about their shipments by using the corresponding tracking number. Since these solutions rely only on existing data related to tracking number mainly provided by carrier and other providers, they suffer from limitations due to the quality and the availability of these third-party data, despite powerful data analysis capabilities.
The magic happens when both data aggregation technology and IoT technology are combined to track goods and create better supply chain visibility.
Actually IoT tracking devices create new data of great value, which were not available to data-only tracking solutions. These new IoT-based data are collected by a variety of sensors at including temperature sensors, humidity sensors, motion sensors: it gives access to data that are physically generated at the shipment level. Furthermore, these data are automatically produced independently from carrier and then transmitted to a cloud-based analytic platform through IoT networks.
Then this new IoT-based data are processed together with external aggregated data to provide superior visibility over the shipments all along the supply chain.
The supply chain visibility is enhanced with physical data from sensors and this visibility is available with smaller latency or even real-time.
Enhance visibility for more reliable shipments and more efficient supply chain
Enhanced visibility in the supply chain is the result of a combination of several recent advances in technologies :
internet of things technologies (LPWA networks such as Sigfox in particular),
data aggregation technologies,
data analysis and data-science capabilities,
New data is now available at a decent price independently from carrier to provide enhance supply chain visibility with a quick return on investment possibility. This is going to extend the use of such visibility solutions to use cases that were not previously covered. Intercontinental shipments with sea freight are one example.
It also opens the use of such enhanced supply chain visibility solutions to track shipments of goods with lower value as a return on investment becomes possible with these new low-power IoT solutions.
The characteristic of these new data is the reason for the enhanced supply chain visibility:
granularity: these are physical data sometimes at package level and giving access to real-time geolocation as well as shipping conditions (temperature, humidity, shocks, intrusions, movement such as craning) and shipment status,
automation: these data are automatically and continuously generated at the package level with no third-party intervention. Data transmission is also automated.
real-time: tracking updates are continuously transmitted. Moreover, shipping events or incidents detected by sensors generate alerts as soon as they occur and these alerts are immediately transmitted through the IoT network.
agnostic: the data is generated all along the shipment journey independently from the shipping solution or carrier. This independence from carrier is a key advantage for shippers who benefit from enhanced and direct visibility over their goods in transit and their supply chain.
end-to-end: because the tracking devices are with the goods, the visibility is door-to-door and not just between ports as in most data-only tracking solution;
With this enhanced visibility, shippers can have better control over their shipments and make them more reliable by cooperating with transport providers in a better manner.
This allows shippers to be more efficient and effective when it comes to delivering products, thus improving customer service and satisfaction.
Real-time visibility and predictive analysis also help shippers to better manage shipping incidents: being alerted as soon as an event occurs, they can make faster decisions based on reliable data that can be used to improve the overall efficiency of shipping operations.
To conclude, enhanced visibility through new low power IoT and digital tracking solution provide shippers with new granular and real-time data. These data give end-to-end visibility to the shippers that they can use to better serve their customers, improve the efficiency of their supply chain, and finally stop enduring shipping uncertainty, powerless.