This content is part of the Essential Guide: Key considerations in global supply chain management

Which supply chain visibility tools help improve logistics?

At the intersection of IoT, analytics and other technologies lies better supply chain visibility. Here's a look at what's making logistics a little easier.

Supply chain managers push to maintain control over orders, deliveries and other logistics tasks, and they are finding help with a combination of technologies that keep them informed of the location and condition of shipments. Some of the technologies in play have been around for years, while others are relative newcomers. What's making the difference today is how the confluence of technologies and their ubiquity and easy deployment are being used so they become more effective as supply chain visibility tools.

Supply chain visibility tools serve up data

Collecting and understanding data has been the driving force delivering supply chain visibility, and the intelligent items that populate the internet-of-things (IoT) world are delivering volumes of data from an expanding number of sources. The main benefit of the combination of technologies identified here is the ability to know what's happening in near-real time and take appropriate action immediately.

Combined, [these technologies] create a perfect storm that can improve logistics and enable more transparency at every step.

The inefficiencies of manual analysis and processing that kept managers from taking quick and decisive action are being eliminated by the nearly seamless connection between IoT and ERP in the supply chain. Here's a quick look at six technologies that can be used together as supply chain visibility tools.

  1. IoT technologies are increasingly used as supply chain visibility tools, especially in the realm of logistics. Combining basic computing capabilities with multiple sensors and continuously available communication operations offers a near-real-time view of orders, their locations and their condition from origin to destination.
  2. Radio frequency ID (RFID) tags make individual items identifiable and have long been used as supply chain visibility tools. The price of RFID tags has dropped to a level that makes them affordable in large quantities for even low-priced products. RFID tags are being used to count items as they are packaged, identify their locations at the loading dock and count inventory on store shelves.
  3. Networks include local connections between IoT devices and wireless carrier networks that stream IoT data, while goods then move the data to applications and storage systems. Current network technologies provide a seamless mesh from manufacturer to consumer, making products visible at multiple points along their journey.
  4. Data storage is more affordable, and it's easier to manage and instantly scale. That combination lets supply chain managers start collecting data from test projects at minimal expense and without any hardware investment. As projects grow or change, companies can modify their storage needs to accommodate expanding product lines, changing suppliers and international reporting requirements on the fly.
  5. Analytics systems can be easily and quickly connected to multiple different sets of data as SaaS offerings to churn through data collected. They discover trends and then deliver insights that let managers shift resources and change routing, destinations and carriers to avoid problems before they happen.
  6. AI assists the supply chain by delivering proactive recommendations based on historical and current data combined with projections. It executes changes as necessary or delivers insights and recommendations when necessary.

Each of these technologies is developing and growing independently. But combined, they create a perfect storm that can improve logistics and enable more transparency at every step, making the near-impossible seem a little easier.

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