Commentary | IT Matters: Logistics & Supply Chain Technology

When Every Product Tells a Story

Tags: Logistics I.T., Temperature-Sensitive Goods, Bar-coding Systems, Technology

What makes Amazon so successful? How has the company turned retail (and logistics, for that matter) on its head? The answer is intelligence. Thanks to digital technology and an expansive network infrastructure, Amazon knows more about the demand chain it’s built between brands and consumers than most traditional companies can possibly grasp.

But that’s changing.

It turns out, you don’t need to be a tech giant to know exactly when a product comes off the manufacturing line, where it’s located along the demand chain (even within a store), or when a consumer tries, purchases, and takes it home.

Today, every company along the demand chain can gain real-time insight into how products are transported, maintained, used, consumed, re-used, and even recycled. It takes digital intelligence, integrated seamlessly and cost-effectively into products, packaging, processes, and more. Plus, a digital infrastructure on the scale of Amazon—an infrastructure that already exists.

Intelligence for the Everyday

Digital intelligence comes in the form of tiny, wireless, digital stickers, affixed to consumer packaged goods, shipping containers, pharmaceuticals—almost anything. If that sounds like the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s because it is, although this IoT is much more expansive than the IoT that over-promised and under-delivered for decades.

The old-school IoT was more like an Internet of Expensive Things because the infrastructure it required—RFID tags, fixed readers, scanners, etc.—took extensive capital investment, not to mention frequent human intervention by people carrying around RFID scanners, aiming them at products, and initiating the kind of demand chain intelligence that should, in fact, be autonomous.

The new Internet of Everyday Things, if you will, comprising trillions of goods (versus the mere billions traversing the old-school IoT), is made possible through those disposable, near-zero-cost, mass-produced, self-powering digital stickers—IoT pixels, we call them—plus a network communications infrastructure with infinite scale.

IoT pixels speak Bluetooth, the now-ubiquitous wireless communications standard. And they communicate to a cloud-based sensing platform information such as location, condition, and temperature. Transporting perishables? The new IoT pixels can determine the temperature of each item—or the container they’re shipped in—and relay that information to manufacturers, distributors, or retailers to help minimize waste and maximize customer satisfaction.

The Infrastructure Exists

The infrastructure needed to collect, process, and analyze this intelligence is all the wireless access points—most of which now include Bluetooth—that businesses have spent years installing. (Not to mention all the Bluetooth radios people carry around in their smartphones.)

If you’re a logistics company that has installed WiFi in its facilities, or a CPG company with WiFi in its distribution centers, you’ve already created the necessary wireless infrastructure for the Internet of Everyday Things. The same goes for retailers and others along the demand chain. Imagine continuous real-time inventory and products that re-order themselves, creating opportunities for predictable, recurring revenue.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Leading IoT companies are using data to deliver innovative solutions to the supply chain—reinventing the way goods are made, distributed, sold, used, reused, and recycled. When there’s intelligence built into everything, digital information—secure, private information—is accessible to everyone. Leveling the playing field this way requires fresh thinking by partners along the demand chain. But it does not require a massive buildout. The Internet of Everyday Things is already all around us.

 






Visit Our Sponsors