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How Real-Time Data Visibility Benefits The Cargo Supply Chain

March 12, 2019

As the IoT and predictive analytics come to scale, supply chain managers stand to benefit from end-to-end visibility over their operations.

Achieving end-to-end data visibility over the modern cargo supply chain is no simple task. While digital technologies like RFID sensors have long promised revolutionary insights into the status of shipments and the location of vehicles, the underlying technology hasn’t allowed for the game-changing transformation that would merit the expenditures necessary to implement it across an entire fleet.

However, the emergence of new technologies — a wide range of them rather than one in particular — promises to make situational awareness across supply chains an achievable goal. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to predictive analytics, increasingly viable new capabilities can help logistics companies develop a more thorough understanding of their operations, allowing them to manage bottlenecks and capitalize on new opportunities to create efficiencies.

In fact, more and more supply chain managers are planning to implement these tools across their assets. The supply chain leads all industries in IoT investment, with Forrester Research predicting global annual investment in IoT to reach $435 billion by 2023. Back in 2016, a supply chain survey from KPMG found that 26% of respondents planned to invest in IoT tech, 36% possibly would, and 26% already had. By 2018, a survey from Inmarsat found that among transportation companies, 36% had already deployed IoT technology, while an additional 45% planned to invest in 2019. Accordingly, for supply chain solutions companies looking to invest in the kind of real-time visibility that can provide tangible operational benefits, it’s important to get started sooner rather than later.

 

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What is the Cargo Supply Chain?

The cargo supply chain refers to the global network of logistics providers, carriers, infrastructure, and affiliated enterprises that make the exchange of goods around the world possible. These entities rely on prompt communication and accurate information in order to deliver products on-schedule, on-budget, and in a safe, secure manner.

In recent years, the challenges facing the global cargo supply chain have only compounded, in large part due to the rise of the e-commerce economy. E-commerce retail sales are projected to reach an astounding $735 billion by 2023. While this represents an exciting growth opportunity for supply chain stakeholders, consumer expectations for fast shipping, regular status updates, and around-the-clock customer service has placed greater strains on an industry already struggling to meet surging demand.

 

What is Real-Time Data Visibility?

Real-time data visibility has been a goal of supply chain managers for decades. While traditional methods of supply chain coordination have helped jumpstart the growth of the e-commerce economy, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage these networks with traditional technologies and infrastructure alone.

Currently, logistics providers and shippers alike rely on a system of checkpoints to understand the status of their shipments. In this model, supply chain managers receive updates whenever cargo gets scanned at certain milestones along a given delivery route. Between these points (i.e. in transit), there’s little to no visibility into the location of shipments, the condition they’re in, or what issues might be holding them up.

Real-time supply chain visibility aims to change this. As businesses prioritize global partnerships and e-commerce growth, it’s vital that they have insights into what happens between these checkpoints. Companies need to know if products are in a satisfactory condition for customers, if shipments are being held up at customs stations, or if inclement weather requires rerouting in order to prevent wider supply chain disruptions.

 

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How Can Real-Time Data Visibility Help the Cargo Supply Chain?

With the emergence of scalable IoT networks, cheaper sensors with longer battery lives, and handheld devices that put drivers on the same wavelength as logistics providers and shippers, it’s possible to gain actionable insights into the status of cargo at every stage of the shipment process. Regardless of the size of the operation or the type of cargo involved, these tools make real-time data visibility an attainable objective.

For example, pharmaceutical companies can rely on real-time temperature monitoring sensors to track and even control the humidity levels of cargo containers, ensuring that shipments arrive in the intended condition. Businesses can feed the data provided by these sensors — the condition of the shipments, their location, and more — into analytics programs powered by AI and machine learning technology. With the right platforms, supply chain managers can anticipate supply chain disruptions before they occur and adjust routing accordingly. They can even share this information easily between manufacturers and retailers to coordinate in advance of predicted delays.

This kind of real-time data visibility is already making waves. Walmart has invested in blockchain technology for its e-commerce and retail operations to provide secure, easily accessible records of food safety status during shipment. Arviem, a Swiss company, has engineered a new generation of sensors that offer reliable, real-time cargo tracking between traditional blindspots. With these investments — among others in the logistics space — the foundational technologies are finally available to make real-time supply chain visibility a reality.

 

How Can Cargo Supply Chains Implement this Technology?

For supply chain managers hoping to capitalize on this technology, the process of implementing the necessary hardware and software is a gradual one. For instance, they’ll need to work with stakeholders across the cargo supply chain to decide on the right sensor technology and the best IoT services to knit those sensors into a reliable network.

However, they will also need to invest in platforms that can consolidate disparate data streams into actionable insights. With the right situational awareness solutions, supply chain managers can turn raw data — the location of fleet vehicles, the status of shipments, and the condition of cargo — into clear directives for all team members. By building a common operational picture across the supply chain, supply chain managers have the information — and the tools — to make the right decisions at the right time.