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Supply Chains and IoT

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Supply chains are another area where businesses can benefit from advances in Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technologies that will provide greater resilience, agility and security, but last month’s crisis in the Suez Canal highlighted again the vulnerable position of suppliers and manufacturers.

In their 2020 IoT Adoption Survey, IoT World found that over half of respondents highlighted a need for digital initiatives, including IoT, and other surveys in recent months – notably Gartner’s supply chain survey – found that 37% of respondents had already invested to some extent in IoT. Gartner also hosted their virtual Supply Chain Symposium in 2020, where some reasons were given to explain the slow adoption of IoT in supply chain monitoring so far:

IoT is in the trough because we see that many companies are implementing the technology, but they struggle to define the best opportunities for using its measurement and tracking capabilities.[1]

According to Mike Burkett, vice president distinguished analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice, the market will begin to climb out of this trough as the measuring and tracking capabilities of IoT are better understood and more widely utilized:

We see further potential to grow its use over the next several years. Gartner estimates that installed IoT endpoints for manufacturing and natural resources industries are forecast to grow to 1.9 billion units in 2028. That is five times from 331.5 million units in 2018.

The applications of IoT are obvious in manufacturing, where businesses are vulnerable to sudden shortages in raw materials and always on the lookout for alternative suppliers. But it has the potential to influence many areas of the supply chain, from customer service to asset management. For example, in the early months of the pandemic, hand sanitiser, soap and toilet paper were all needed in shops rather than offices or public buildings, but a lack of flexibility in the supply chain resulted in empty shelves and panic buying.

To react to changes in demand, accurate data and effective data analysis are essential. This is just as true in facilities management where decision support, preventive maintenance and real time asset performance tracking are all essential to the smooth operation of a building. Inventory optimisation is also essential to maintain a high level of occupant satisfaction. Using sensors and machine learning, digitally enhanced infrastructure builds up patters of occupant behaviour, helping to forecast demand in ways that previously were not possible and allowing building operators to adapt more quickly.

For now, businesses will only be able to benefit from machine leaning in their supply chain if they are already digitized. But as the cost of individual IoT sensors comes down, the benefits of live data will encourage adoption: the foundations of good operational performance are effective data collection and accurate data analysis, and as the challenges of global supply chain management continue to evolve, data will be the crucial weapon against inefficiency.

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-09-09-gartner-2020-hype-cycle-for-supply-chain-strategy-shows-internet-of-things-is-two-to-five-years-away-from-transformational-impact

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