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Accelerating the adoption of digital technology in the supply chain

12 Feb 2021

How can you accelerate the adoption of digital technology throughout the supply chain?

The majority of IoT adopters accelerated their projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, our IoT Spotlight Research revealed.

81% are prioritising this technology more than they did before – and are now running multiple projects simultaneously and, at the peak of the crisis, 84% felt that IoT had ensured business continuity and maintained operations.

Not every company is as advanced on its digital journey, however, and with so many opportunities to explore, what is the best way forward?

Defining business priorities is just part of the strategy – companies also need to consider the role of digital employees within the new smart supply chain.

Defining objectives

Business resilience is at the top of the agenda after the disruption created throughout 2020.

When it comes to the supply chain, resilience takes many forms – from multiple sourcing to backup logistics plans. Such plans will only work if companies have access to the right information at the right time to support critical decision-making.

The ability to track inbound products in real-time across the entire supply chain through managed global IoT platforms, for example, allows companies to make rapid decisions and respond fast to unexpected changes.

Autonomous operations

Businesses now have so many opportunities to capture and share data.

Over 100 million IoT connections are delivering an extraordinary array of information – from product location to equipment performance and environmental conditions. Smart labels are using iSIM, the next generation of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) technology, to track a product from a production plant through the supply chain. This technology is helping to reduce both product damage and theft. For example, if there is a sudden drop in temperature that might damage goods, a notification will trigger an action to resolve the situation. The small smart label also gives a complete view of the supply chain, assuring the quality and traceability of products.

Cloud technology then collects, stores and analyses this information and the scalable networks that allow immediate, secure data sharing, including Narrowband IoT (NB IoT) and LTE-M, build resilience and improve efficiency throughout the supply chain.

Ports, for example, are starting to look at using IoT, Mobile Private Networks (MPN) and Edge Computing to automate the unloading of freight by autonomous cranes. They will also use 5G and drones to confirm the load manifest of inbound ships and refine the unloading schedule before the ship docks.

Using this technology and communication capability, companies can then feed continual updates of unloading information into manufacturing and distribution systems to optimise operations.

Including the digital employee

It is also important to consider the cultural change associated with digital transformation.

Suddenly your staff are part of a smart supply chain that is constantly changing based on immediate data sharing. This is exciting and empowering but a world away from making decisions based on data that is hours, even days out of date.

Life is very different for a production manager able to work from home, analysing data provided securely in real-time from an array of IoT devices to keep track of operations.

No more stalking up and down production lines to check performance when intuitive, accessible information is presented in real-time. No more battles with equipment providers or maintenance crews when cloud analytics and AI allow proactive and preventative maintenance.

One factory has adopted drones to reduce a four-hour inspection process to just 30 minutes – and removed the need for an employee to move across high-level gantries to check machinery. 

Using Edge Computing means real-time video analytics can be conducted on the drone’s footage, making the inspection process quicker. Any potential issues can be rapidly identified and addressed.

Digital technologies are creating a collaborative, data-supported, dispersed workforce – and you need to take them with you. Find out more about making technology the catalyst for change in your business.

Bring the business forward

Whatever the business priority, any investment in digital technologies should consider how the data being collected is going to be used both to support efficient operations and understand a changing business outlook.

Whether it is managing rising customer expectation and behaviour change or the challenges associated with global supply chain disruption rapid access to trusted information is supporting new strategic direction.

Customers sharing accurate, up-to-date product demand information will allow companies to improve forecasting.

Technologies such as AI can help with predictive manufacturing; companies can move towards custom production to meet each customer’s exact requirements while reducing wastage.

Every single step in the journey can build confidence – whether it is the use of wearables to enable workers to operate safely and efficiently or the ability to remotely manage equipment to avoid downtime.

Businesses across the globe are waking up to the power of digital technologies to allow business change – and that includes your competitors.

COVID-19 has accelerated the digital evolution, making it important to find the right partner to help drive forward and realise your digital goals.

Find out more about building a smart supply chain for the future.

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