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The ultimate guide to creating a smarter supply chain

Global opportunities

Today’s supply chains are complex, tightly integrated and more often than not, global.

Thanks to digital technologies, companies of every size and shape can work with suppliers and customers around the world.

But as we have all discovered, supply chains can be fragile. Disruption to manufacturing or shipping has a knock-on effect on multinational companies, while changes in consumer activity – including stockpiling – place pressures on distribution models.

Supply chains must be resilient to cope with unforeseen events. But a resilient, smart supply chain doesn’t just survive such challenges – it thrives.

As for how to do it, you need the right information and communication foundation.

With a smart supply chain, a business automatically reschedules and reroutes shipments in response to a delay, simultaneously updating customers with the new delivery information. It uses customer demand data to continually update forecasts and plans — and shares that information with suppliers so everyone is in the loop.

So let’s find out how you can build one.

To create a more robust business and seize new opportunities, you need to improve communication and visibility throughout your supply chain.

According to our Future Ready Report, 75% of businesses expect to change their business model as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many (43%) think a crisis such as COVID-19 is the best possible time to experiment with new ways of working.

Here are a few ways businesses are reimagining their supply chains:

Moving to local sources of supply

The pandemic highlighted the global reliance on foreign manufacturers. Almost 9 in 10 (86%) supply chains were disrupted, so it is no wonder that companies are looking to add contingency and bolster capability and resilience.

Local and regional suppliers are a big part of the new supply chain thinking.

Even if it costs more, businesses want to protect against future disruption by cutting the supply chain and improving market accessibility. Which is why almost half of those we surveyed (40%) in our Future Ready Report said they’re likely to seek out local or regional suppliers.

Improving supplier relationships

Businesses are building better relationships with suppliers to make sure they are at the front of the queue next time any disruption occurs. Stockpiles are also being expanded, just in case.

Our research found that more than a third (39%) are likely to strengthen their contracts with suppliers to ensure they get what they need.

Taking the journey to the cloud

Adaptable businesses have moved systems into the cloud to keep workers safe during the pandemic and automate processes.

Baoshan Iron and Steel — a Shanghai-based manufacturing company — had their facility running around-the-clock with automated production. Just three workers were required for inspections.

With cloud-based technology and IoT, production lines have kept running because managers can securely access manufacturing data remotely. While wearables help to enforce new ‘safe distance’ working practices.

But how is technology supporting businesses in other sectors?

Technology investment is supercharging business innovation across every sector.

Food manufacturers and distributors are minimising wastage by proactively managing temperatures and humidity throughout the supply chain. Wearable devices are transforming warehouse productivity and improving worker safety. Plus automated freight unloading can be quick and safe using low-latency networks that deliver immediate information on the location of goods and people throughout the site.

Trusted data collection and immediate communication is changing and improving every stage of the supply chain.

While we all have different sustainability goals and objectives, green investment opportunities are a priority for many businesses.

According to our Future Ready Report, almost three quarters (72%) of consumers want brands to serve a wider purpose than their core business.

This includes businesses providing ethical delivery options, information about a product’s manufacturing history – from the use of water and power, to the raw materials and workforce wellbeing — and explaining just how they are driving positive change.

Employees and potential recruits also discuss sustainability objectives as they determine who they want to work for.

What does this mean for you?

Capturing and communicating this information builds strong sustainability credentials and informs future strategy. Every business can achieve change, innovation and differentiation throughout the supply chain.

And modern technologies are already paving the way:

Connecting devices across the supply chain

Using a managed IoT connectivity platform, Kurita water were able to get flexible, real-time monitoring and reporting on the water conditions at their facilities around the globe.

Low-cost asset tracking

Bayer, a global leader in the Life Science fields of health and agriculture, has been working with Vodafone Business, Arm, Altair Semiconductor and Murata to develop a unique, low-cost smart label. It uses low-power mobile connectivity to monitor products throughout the supply chain in real time and works continuously for up to three years. It’s an affordable and much more sustainable approach to asset tracking and theft protection.

Real-time monitoring and smart control

McWane MIPL, a $2.5 billion multinational based in the US were able to connect their smart metering solutions, designed to monitor water, energy and road infrastructure in smart cities, with a managed IoT platform to achieve end-to-end visibility and support sustainability.

You can find out their story here.

Building monitoring and control and smart metering are also minimising energy consumption – helping businesses and their customers to move towards net-zero carbon targets.

Bringing technology together

In manufacturing, technologies like Mobile Private Networks and Edge Computing are coming together to provide consistent connectivity and autonomous decentralised manufacturing. This means quicker response times and less delay: game-changing in the world of manufacturing.

By adding AI, machine sensors and intelligent networks, decisions — the right decisions — can be automated at scale, all without the need for human interaction. Manufacturers could increase productivity, minimise waste and deliver a high-quality product to market - every time.

However, achieving sustainability requires strong supply chain relationships — businesses that are prepared to help you meet your objectives. Let’s talk about how you can get there.

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5G and the sustainable supply chain

The COVID-19 pandemic not only accelerated companies’ digital plans — it showed them that they needed to innovate and change. With technologies like 5G presenting the next generation in super-fast, low-latency connective, how can supply chains take advantage of it and use it in conjunction with devices to create connected operations wherever they are?

As businesses, we are working together in different ways – in part as a result of the pandemic but also because unified communication and collaboration solutions just make cooperating easier.

Consider the way the major UK supermarkets came together in March 2020 in their ‘Working to feed the nation’ campaign, actively sharing supply chain data to manage the panic buying and minimise stock shortages. In this case, the government’s temporary relaxation of competition law allowed the sharing of data on stock levels, as well as warehouse space and delivery vans.

Ultimately, strong relationships with employees, partners and customers are built on effective data capture and communication throughout an automated supply chain. It paves the way for a more engaged business.

Billions of connected devices allow us to collect so much information — from freight location to energy usage - and we can share that information with partners, customers and suppliers to build ever-stronger relationships.

Our Future Ready Report shows that over half (53%) of businesses already share a substantial amount of information with at least one external body, and 42% expect that to increase. With the right data at the right time, businesses optimise supply chain processes and respond faster to customer needs. Customer demand is met by using real-time sales data to place orders and tracking of goods in transit ensures items are delivered on time.

Managing changing customer expectations, demands and behaviours is always a priority. Combining IoT data with cloud-based analytics is helping companies to better understand and adapt to customer needs.
For retail supply chains, blockchain and IoT are unlocking incredible opportunities for partner collaboration and better results. Blockchain is providing supply chain partners with complete visibility of goods, including status, location and associated documents. It also ensures that (because the ledger cannot be changed) goods are genuine. As for the data from IoT-enabled devices, suppliers can monitor and manage delivery quality, measure factors like temperature and humidity, and accurately determine when items will arrive. All of this is combined with blockchain technology to deliver a single, consistent picture. It also ensures your products meet customer expectations.

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When it comes to meeting customer expectations, you need to cover every base. Customers want higher quality products, a focus on sustainable production values and a great experience.

As a result, businesses are creating innovative new products and exploring customisation to meet each customer’s specific need. This is where technology is really delivering.
From design and inception through to manufacturing and distribution data, digitalisation can make a massive difference. Companies use cloud-based analytics, for example, to innovate based on clearly identified customer demand for specific products and services. The pharmaceutical sector is using digital technologies, including IoT and UC, to streamline drug development and production, creating more accurate data that is pushing the boundaries of medicine.
Pharmaceutical firms like AntTail, for example, are using managed IoT connectivity to monitor the integrity of medicine. With pharmaceutical supply chains being long and fragmented, their sensor-based solution, combined with a managed IoT platform, allows them to monitor medicine temperatures at scale.

Business success is a continuous journey – and a smart supply chain is achieved by following four key steps: automate, streamline, analyse, improve.

An interconnected supply chain is continuously communicating vital information and insight that can improve resilience, efficiency, responsiveness and innovation. Here are the technologies that can help and the trends you should be aware of:

Information at your fingertips

IoT captures data to unlock new ways of working, especially remotely. For manufacturers, efficient, cost-effective, automated information gathering allows for real-time asset tracking, supporting highly intelligent preventative maintenance models that avoid costly downtime.
remote working

Secure connectivity, wherever, whenever

Mobile Private Networks make new connections possible, providing information to your employees, including data on equipment and assets, that was previously inaccessible or unavailable. For example, dockside unloading can now be automated, transforming efficiency, whilst also ensuring worker safety through real-time location tracking with integrated alarms.

Go from monitoring to control

5G networks take the smart supply chain from just monitoring to control. Using 5G with IoT means that a problem with a warehouse conveyor doesn’t just raise an alarm and inform maintenance, but actively shuts it down, reducing the risk of product damage and safeguarding your employees.

On-premise responsiveness around-the-clock

When milliseconds matter, Edge Computing is a game-changer. Edge Computing brings the responsiveness of on-premise but with the agility of a public cloud by providing IT services and cloud processing at the edge of the network. Using edge processing reduces network congestion and speeds up application performance, allowing mobile and IoT devices to drive new levels of automated performance.

Transform your communication across the supply chain

An agile business responds to every new opportunity and mitigates new business risks – and that requires highly effective, intelligent communication across the entire smart supply chain. Using Unified Communications, you can blend people, applications, clouds and networks to ensure the right information is available to the right people and at the right time.

Communication is critical at every stage of the supply chain – all the way through to tracking the delivery of goods to the customer door and notifying the customer of arrival. Suppliers and business partners use fast, reliable secure fixed and mobile communication throughout the supply chain to collaborate, driving down costs and becoming far more responsive.

Businesses avoid expensive product loss and wastage with Mobile Asset Tracking. Companies know where valuable assets, including machinery to pallets and containers, are at any time. Tracking can even be used to keep an eye on the small tools and devices – the ones that always seem to go missing.

Managing the delivery fleet – both drivers and vehicles - is a complex part of every supply chain Fleet Telematics combines powerful communication with cloud-based big data storage and analytics, including real-time location information, route management, diagnostics and maintenance, to keep goods and drivers safe and productive.

Cater for new ways of working

Employee productivity is being improved by providing the right data at the right time – and growing numbers of companies are exploring their own role-based mobile apps to improve processes, data sharing and collaboration. Production innovation can take many forms – from embracing sustainable components and processes to customisation. Combining IoT with Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is helping one company to improve the management of its plant, machinery and vehicle routing, reducing carbon emissions. In a smart, connected factory, 5G is enabling settings to be adjusted at the touch of a button, enabling new designs to be rolled out at speed.

Real-time monitoring of people, equipment and buildings can really help to both keep employees safe and operations efficient. Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) is an efficient, cost-effective way to achieve this, and it works well for devices that have low energy consumption, low data transfer demands and/or are geographically dispersed.

Remote working is also on the increase, with intelligent and innovative mobile devices, enabling employees to work faster and smarter. To keep control over this expanding remote workforce Mobile Device Management provides secure yet seamless access to business apps and data.
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Remote working opportunities for the supply chain

Remote working has become the norm — but are businesses around the globe prepared and equipped to support their workforce? In our free guide, we explore what remote working truly means for supply chains around the world, as well as what can be done to aid the process of change.

We know technology works- But giving employees the ability to share immediate data throughout the supply chain is a big cultural change.

Especially if you are moving from a legacy environment that has often relied on data that is hours, if not days out of date. Companies need to manage risk, understand the cost base and find a trusted supplier.

Creating the right digital culture is an important step. A Chief Digital Operator can oversee the change in mindset, visualise new processes. Build on each technology success, such as the use of IoT sensors to remotely manage production equipment, to create confidence in technology.

Your competitors are also waking up to the power of digital technologies to allow business change – it is important to find the right partner to help drive forward and realise your digital goals.

Real-time communication, Connectivity and Visibility

Data is at the heart of a smart supply chain, but developing one requires more than just collecting it from an array of intelligent devices. To truly transform your operation, that data needs to be used to immediately support and scale your business — it’s about real-time communication, connectivity and visibility. And that’s where we can help.
Whether you want to connect devices across your estate, create reliable connections for remote and hybrid workers, develop your own applications to drive productivity, optimise your networks, monitor assets in real time or transform your entire business — we provide the fast, resilient communication that is the foundation for a smart supply chain.