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A secure, sustainable pathway to the IoT in supply chains

By Derek Bryan, VP EMEA at Verizon Connect

Supply chains are constantly battling challenges, with unforeseen delays, restrictions and thefts causing disruption at every turn. More recently, the pandemic threatened the continuity of supply chains more severely than any event in recent memory. Lockdowns imposed across Europe and the rest of the world in response have caused disruption to the flow of goods, people, and transport drastically – with no indication of when its effects might fully subside.

The industry requires a smart solution, and the Internet of Things (IoT) could provide us with some of the answers. From temperature gauges, to in-vehicle sensor technology, to vehicle condition monitoring, the number of internet-connected devices in this sector will continue to grow, offering a ream of benefits to drivers navigating supply chain uncertainty going forward. 

According to the Verizon Business 2020 Data Breaches Investigation Report (DBIR), IT misconfiguration was responsible for the largest number of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the transport and logistics sector. This is one of a variety of factors preventing a confident uptake of IoT across the sector, meaning drivers are losing out. 

With this in mind, how can we reconcile the expanding landscape of IoT vulnerabilities with its potential benefits? And moreover, as restrictions on mobility and economic disruption continue to be top of mind, how can businesses gain ROI from IoT in the medium and long term? 

Shoring up the supply chain – the benefits of IoT 

First and foremost, we must establish how IoT helps logistics businesses shore up their pipelines. 

IoT devices can include anything from asset monitoring sensors within vehicles to assess the condition and temperature of cargo, to external sensors alerting drivers of the proximity of other vehicles, to the condition of the engine, to driver seats being occupied and doors/windows being opened or broken into. Additionally, AI dash cameras that allow fleet managers to review footage following a harsh driving event or accident are also becoming increasingly common within the sector. 

Installing connected, smart technology on the ground provides logistics managers with a wealth of actionable data on, and visibility into, every step of the supply chain – allowing them to enhance operations in numerous ways. Using the data, drivers can be instructed to drive less aggressively or change how they load vehicles, for example, to ensure both they and their cargo arrive at their intended destination safely. 

Managers can predictively pull vehicles out of operation if engine diagnosis data indicates a breakdown may be imminent. Drivers can pinpoint exactly when and where their vehicle was stolen or damaged to help expedite insurance claims. They can even provide supermarket customers with exact records of how long their produce has been stored for, and at what temperature, while in transit.

These closer and more accurate insights are particularly valuable to logistics businesses during times of disruption such as a pandemic or other global event. Agility, streamlined operations and vehicles and goods that communicate with each other help provide a more informed and consistent view of the supply chain, and in doing so help end users provide a more accurate and holistic picture to their customers.

Overcoming potential barriers to unleash full IoT potential 

The benefits of installing IoT for logistics companies are numerous, but Verizon’s DBIR findings show that cybersecurity remains an issue for the industry. Other factors commonly cited as barriers to IoT adoption include a lack of integration between IoT and other digital technology across the supply chain, and cost. 

A resulting lack of confidence is holding some companies back from taking full advantage of the insights the IoT has to offer. It is understandable that some firms may struggle to justify investments in IoT-enabled devices, particularly if their organisation’s wider technology stack does not permit their managers to collect, view, analyse and act on data effectively. 

A resulting lack of confidence is holding some companies back from taking full advantage of the insights the tech has to offer. However, integrated solutions now exist that help automate and facilitate intelligent decision-making using IoT data,  and are designed with data security at their heart. Once implemented effectively and fully connected to all applicable business units across an organisation, they allow businesses to drive down costs, compete more effectively and cut wastage.

Confidently drive ROI across the business 

Effectively implementing IoT creates an opportunity for businesses to cut costs well beyond the vehicular portion of the supply chain too. Connected devices allow for better tracking of goods and produce from production all the way through to the shop floor. This increased transparency increases customers’ confidence in a firm – and in doing so makes the business more competitive in the long-term. 

Installing the technology in a selected number of vehicles means an individual driver on the ground will be safer, but across a whole fleet, businesses can use the technology to lower collective insurance premiums and reduce risk exposure, protecting business returns and adding to the business’ bottom line. 

Supercharging the supply chain in times of crisis 

If the past year has taught businesses anything, it’s that the ability to be agile and connected, real-time communication are both key to keeping supply chains running during and beyond times of crisis.

Fleet optimisation has been commonplace for some time, but the insights generated by the IoT are opening up new opportunities for companies to make drivers and vehicles an extension of the business, wherever they are operating. Not only can it identify potential threats in real-time, alerting drivers of issues in their immediate surroundings, but it can also feed this information – and more – back up to fleet managers, who have fuller visibility across the chain and can use the information to inform more intelligent decision-making.

Being aware of how every part of your distributed workforce is operating has never been important given whole global networks are in limbo. Reporting this quickly and effectively can help drive greater efficiency, safety, and cost savings for businesses as a whole, whether big or small. 

Why digitising supply chains can help pay for itself

By Derek Bryan, VP EMEA, Verizon Connect

For some businesses, digital transformation represents an opportunity to improve how it operates and connects with partners and customers; for others, it can seem like a headache with a considerable price tag attached. 

While it’s true that any change requires careful planning, those in the ‘loathe camp’ may be overlooking the benefits and considerable return-on-investment (ROI) digital transformation can generate, especially across supply chains. 

Opening the door for automation

Most supply chain managers are time poor and have many plates spinning at the same time. Digitising the supply chain can open the door for automating administrative tasks, freeing up time to improve operational performance. For example, it can help to check for human error or flawed data input throughout the supply chain, assist with job allocation, automatically update clients or supply chain partners on the status of jobs, and simplify compliance processes. 

Automation is often labelled as a threat to job security, particularly those which involve physical labour as is commonly found in supply chain-based occupations. This is far from reality for two reasons: first, the technology required to carry out all the tasks required of a human worker is either too expensive or too sophisticated to be economically viable for businesses; second, automation tends to impact time-consuming, repetitive tasks such as reporting, job allocation and scheduling. This means that workers and supply chain managers are empowered to focus more of their time on value-add tasks while the admin gets taken care of. 

Channelling value back to the customer

At its core, digital transformation has the imperative to make everything centred around meeting the needs of customers. While digital tools have enabled new service offerings to customers, the supply chains they rely on have become increasingly intricate. Not only do supply chain managers contend with more complex networks of stakeholders, they must also operate within narrower time frames due to rising customer expectations.

Most organisations already have the tools required to fulfil customer orders on time, such as route-planning, GPS tracking and live traffic updates. At the very least, customers expect to be kept regularly updated on the status of deliveries or engineers, especially when it comes to delays.

With the right digital tools at hand, such as an integrated software platform that automatically tracks the status of jobs and processes, organisations can enhance both the quantity and quality of customer touchpoints either online or via mobile applications – literally putting delivery information in the palm of the customer’s hand.  

This also helps notify managers when mobile workers have completed a job, validate the condition of their cargo, and create or reassign jobs in near real-time, based on which worker is most suitable for each delivery or job. Not only does this mean workers are able to complete every aspect of their job without disruption, but supply chain managers obtain a clearer view of whether their mobile workforce is operating effectively, and on time.

Unexpected benefits

A digital supply chain can bring unexpected benefits too. The issue of vehicles being empty on their return journey is a challenge for lots of companies. Aside from the sunk fuel and worker costs, the shortage of drivers currently being faced in the UK makes it even more difficult for supply chain managers to reliably get goods to where they need to be, when they need to be there. 

Enabling the integration of vehicle tracking systems with intelligent software platforms to provide updates on available freight capacity in near real-time, means businesses are able to fill empty vehicles on their return journeys by identifying their live locations and offering the capacity to companies looking to move goods to destinations on route. This means that assets can be utilised, helping to reduce empty miles and emissions, increase productivity, and making transport operations more cost efficient. 

The future is software-defined

Digital tools don’t just sit on top of existing structures, they create a platform upon which supply chains are orchestrated. In an age where just about anything can be digitised, organisations can use this to identify operational inefficiencies in the supply chain and open up new revenue streams. Not only that, the inherent flexibility of software-defined supply chains gives businesses the chance to do this continuously and easily scale their products and services to meet changing demands.

Quarter of commercial drivers ‘breaking rest rules’

Twenty-five per cent of commercial drivers in the UK are flouting rules around rest and fatigue, according to a survey of fleet managers from Verizon Connect.

In terms of key concerns, 24 per cent of fleet managers cited compliance, 23 per cent said unsafe driving practices and 13 per cent of said drivers not taking rest.

Although two thirds of fleet managers have systems in place to help ensure their drivers take required breaks, 16 per cent leave it at the driver’s discretion to take appropriate rest. Meanwhile, 15 per cent ask their drivers about breaks and three per cent simply do not know of their drivers are following the rules.

Fleet managers also said they spend more than three hours a week correcting and following up on drivers’ tachograph mistakes – which adds up to nearly 21 working days, or more than a month, each year.

When asked how they would prefer to spend this time instead, looking for ways to reduce costs was the most popular response with 39 per cent.

Derek Bryan, vice president, EMEA at Verizon Connect, said: ““Simple systems can be put in place to cut down time spent on admin while ensuring compliance and driver safety. By integrating tachograph data with their fleet management system, organisations of any size can improve driver safety, compliance, and productivity. In doing so, managers reclaim time to focus on growing and improving the business.”