Why IoT is not the key to unlock supply chain value

Toby Mills, founder and CEO of Newmarket-based supply chain visibility pioneer Entopy, explains how data mesh technology is offering a new route to avoid supply chain disruption.

Businesses with optimal supply chains can halve their inventory holdings, reduce their supply chain costs by 15% and triple the speed of their cash-to-cash cycle, research suggests. Yet global supply chain disruption is worse than ever in the wake of the pandemic.

Part of the problem is that the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT) has not lived up to its promise of revolutionising supply chain logistics and management. More than 10 billion IoT devices around the world are constantly adding data to already overflowing data stores. Yet global supply chain disruption persists.

This is because the disruption is not caused by a lack of data – which is why more IoT is not the answer. The real answer lies in creating effective connections between numerous stakeholders performing a range of functions, across multiple enterprise platforms and in different jurisdictions.

End-to-end visibility is crucial to improve supply chain performance. But the biggest hurdle is that each stakeholder is a separate entity operating independently. It is comparatively simple to digitise a factory – with everything under one roof and controlled by one organisation. But an entire global supply chain is a very different matter.

Mobile devices are often seen as a potential solution when fixed infrastructure is too expensive or impractical. But they are also expensive, as well as costly to maintain. So, although they could offer truly remote monitoring, they would have to be retrieved after use – which significantly limits their use.

As a result, although there is no shortage of data, it is fragmented across a variety of siloed systems, each owned, operated and controlled by different independent organisations.

To unlock the benefits, the data needs to be captured and combined, while maintaining privacy between the respective organisations – and very different data needs to be brought together in a way that can deliver the coherent visibility required.

New data mesh technology has now provided the breakthrough. Data mesh is based on distributed architecture for analytical data management and enables end users to easily access and query data where it lives – without first transporting it to a data lake or data warehouse.

This means data from multiple supply chain systems can be captured and combined to create a ‘digital twin’ of a consignment – providing a single data product from which all stakeholders can get the visibility they need.

Leveraging data across the supply chain enables a much fuller picture to be achieved at a granular level. And as the data is from existing systems used in the day-to-day running of the various organisations, it is of high quality, can be trusted, and the systems are well maintained.

Intelligent data orchestration is then what connects and harmonises the different supply chain systems in a way that allows them to work together. Think of it like an orchestra. The musicians do not work directly with one another. Instead, they follow the lead of a conductor.

To achieve cross-stakeholder visibility, a ‘conductor’ is needed in the supply chain to synchronise all the various data inputs. Each separate system communicates directly and only to the conductor platform – removing the need for numerous discrete connections and maintaining data integrity.

As each digital twin is created, proprietary algorithms define and assign policies to it to ensure only relevant data is captured from each connected system.

Data from order management and transport management systems is combined with more real-time data sources from other systems present across the supply chain. For example, consignment and inventory data can be combined with transport schedules and allocated transport.

The telematics system of the associated transport vehicle provides real-time location and condition data from the consignment which, when combined with analytics, generates detailed consignment lifecycle records, capturing key events throughout

These events can be communicated across the supply chain – improving cross-stakeholder visibility, communication and process automation to give greater efficiencies and reduce costs across the board.

The detailed data accessibility and orchestration can also take monitoring and compliance to new levels – providing evidence, for example, that vehicles are complying with HGV routes stipulated by regulatory bodies to ensure minimal disruption to residential areas.

With global supply chain disruption costing the average large business £145m a year, Entopy’s intelligent data orchestration is set to unlock valuable hidden supply chain value.

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