What Supply Chains Need to Supply More of: Data

Tarun Gupta
CPO and co-founder
June 29, 2021

It’s no secret that around the world, supply chains are breaking. In the US, the auto industry is retreating from its 50-year history with just-in-time manufacturing, and the tight, ecosystem-wide coordination it entails. In India, the COVID crisis has completely disrupted globally integrated supply chains across every major business sector, threatening long-lasting impact on multiple fronts: social, political, technical, industrial and economic. But the pandemic is only the most recent shock; climate change and geopolitical risk have provided a threatening background drumbeat for several years now.

I believe there is a simple solution to the trauma buyers and suppliers are experiencing: data. Specifically, suppliers can easily receive extremely granular logistics data about where their goods are at any point on the globe, in a digestible format that allows customers to quickly pivot if problems occur. In doing so, suppliers give their customers the intelligence required to manage their supply chains effectively and keep business on track. This new constant stream of micro-reporting is enabled by a combination of low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) technology and narrowband satellite communications, allowing goods to be pinpointed at any moment, anywhere under the sky.

Taking a page from the consumer playbook

As consumers we are already familiar with micro-reporting—when we order a Lyft or an Uber ride, we can track every inch of our driver’s progress to our location. We can also see what kind of vehicle we’ll be riding in, and a numeric rating for our driver—and decline the ride if neither of these meet our satisfaction. Why not apply this real time, granular view across gigantic supply chains, and consolidate the data in a dashboard command center? Let’s break it down. 

  • Tracking progress: We can already track gross movements of goods, as they traverse across shipment check-in points such as sorting centers or ports of entry. But that’s not enough. Supply chains are routinely jolted by weather, traffic and road closures and shipping mishaps

    Suppliers’ customers would be far better off if they were notified of disruptions as they were occurring, minute-by-minute, instead of hours or days later—sometimes by a ransom demand notice. By fitting trucks and ships with low-cost transmission hotspots connected to satellite networks, suppliers can offer pinpoint location data that allows customers to track goods, literally, along every inch of their journey.  

  • Numeric ratings for drivers: Trucking companies use government-mandated electronic logging devices (ELDs) to protect drivers and monitor how safely their vehicles are being driven. ELDs plug into a truck’s engine control module to synchronize with the engine and record required data on engine power status, engine hours, vehicle motion, and miles driven. Drivers must also input their duty status to reflect their time spent driving, waiting at a loading dock, sleeping, or on break. 

    The ELDs, which are about the size of a sandwich, automatically feed data to the trucking company and vendor. Again, taking a page from the ride share playbook, this data can be aggregated into a star-rating system that rank-orders drivers, transmitting this data to customers.

    What about ships? Narrowband satellite networks provide connectivity solutions, even out in the open sea, allowing sensors to continuously report critical ship navigation and performance data, which can be transmitted in raw format or rolled into an analytic performance model that can rate ship captains.

  • Truck and ship mechanical monitoring: Similarly, sensors can be fitted to key mechanical components in trucks and ships. These sensors supplement the closed system of on-board electronics that monitor tire pressure, brakes and other core components, capturing additional information about parts that directly impact reliability—for example, wheel bearings on semi-trucks

IoT technology-enabled transparency is the next wave 

As e-commerce continues to drive retail sales growth for giants like Walmart and Amazon, all industries will sharpen their focus on supply chain and logistics as a means of gaining a competitive edge. I believe that all forward-thinking suppliers and logistics companies will soon be more transparent about sharing detailed transit information with customers, in a bid to solve problems and build stronger partnerships.

New technologies are available to drive down the cost of ubiquitous data collection. Low-cost, ruggedized IoT hubs, or hotspots, can be installed on thousands of trucks economically; they can transmit data with the seamless, affordable connectivity of narrowband satellite communications, and all without geographic constraints. 

On the customer end, advanced dashboard and mobile solutions consolidate and provide analytic interpretation of supplier data and alerts. When a freighter is greeted with a backlog in port, or trucks are sidelined by inclement weather, customers can be apprised immediately, giving them the earliest notice possible. Armed with up-to-the minute information, companies can quickly offer alternative strategies. 

As parts of our planet begin to enter a post-COVID world, the pandemic continues to grip numerous others. The global supply chain ecosystem will no doubt continue to be rocked by current and future pandemics, and climate and geopolitical change. As the world gets more complicated, the solution is apparent and simple: providing abundant data to help supply chain participants better cope with relentless change.

To learn more about what Skylo offers, please email us at info@skylo.tech.