Jan 15, 2021

Deloitte: Seize the Trade 4.0 digital transformation

Trade 4.0
Janet Brice
4 min
international trade
Government agencies urged to seize the opportunity of Trade 4.0 – the new digital thread transforming global trade as it crosses borders...

Government agencies are being urged to seize the opportunity of Trade 4.0 – the new digital thread transforming trade as it crosses international borders, in a new report by Deloitte.

“The opportunities offered by Trade 4.0 seem endless,” comment Deloitte who offer a framework that government agencies could follow as they adapt their role as facilitator, enforcer and negotiator to this digital trade world.

“Government should take steps to increase their prowess in Industry 4.0 technologies, hone its data analytics capabilities, forge public-private-partnerships (PPPs) to protect its citizens and trade partners and strengthen its human capital,” say Deloitte in the new report Seizing the Trade 4.0 opportunity.

When Industry 4.0 becomes Trade 4.0

Known as The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 has now crossed borders to become Trade 4.0 - the new digital thread transforming international trade. 

“When the digitalisation of how we make, transport, or sell is applied to goods crossing international borders, Industry 4.0 becomes Trade 4.0,” points out Deloitte. 

“These changes are causing the emergence of an ever-complicated trade ecosystem which comes with a slew of new trade-related challenges. Trade 4.0 will not wait for us and will continue to shift market dynamics and change form as it responds to the nebulous uncertainties of today.” 

Industry 4.0 is the application of advanced digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), drones and Internet of Things (IoT) which is revolutionising how the world makes, transports and sells goods. 

The report says all facets of international trade - from processing of goods at ports of entry, to security of supply chains, to formulation of trade agreements – are all adapting to this new wave of digital transformation.

Framework for navigating Trade 4.0

Deloitte outlines a framework for government agencies to help them navigate Trade 4.0.

“With the trade ecosystem becoming increasingly digitised, government agencies should adapt their roles across the three archetypes of facilitators, enforcers, and negotiators of Trade 4.0. This can help them keep pace with the evolving international trade milieu and make the most of the opportunities while minimising risks to their profits and populations.

  • Facilitator - In its role as a facilitator, the government evaluates, assigns, and collects trade tariffs and duties. “With cross-border trade growing manifold in complexity and volume, there will continue to be room for government agencies to grow their role in this area,” says the report.
  • Enforcer - With a view to uphold laws and protect national and economic security, government works to ensure that global supply chains are safe, secure, legitimate, and fair. Trade enforcement is an interagency effort. 
  • Negotiator - Governments formulate trade agreements, resolve trade-related disputes, and represent their economies’ best interests in front of global trade forums. 

Trade 4.0 in practice

While governments are still figuring out their roles as facilitators, enforcers, and negotiators there are examples of Trade 4.0 already at play. 

“They are visible in the use of additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, and e-commerce in the making, transportation, and selling of goods respectively,” comment Deloitte who take an in-depth look at the capabilities of digitalisation across each of these products life cycles in relation to Trade 4.0 and the role of governments.  

“Today, many are questioning the ability of the government to keep pace with Trade 4.0, specifically in matters of trade negotiation and implementation. Historically, the global community has put off the establishment of international norms and agreements related to digitalisation of trade,” says the report.

Despite Trade 4.0 not being addressed globally, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), fully ratified by all three countries in 2020, is the first major international trade agreement with a chapter on digital trade. 

The most promising potential of Trade 4.0 lies in the new frontier, where maximum digitalisation meets efficient partnerships.

“While government agencies should strive to strategically invest, partner and hire talent, the private sector should employ its capabilities to understand how Trade 4.0 impacts consumer behaviour,” advises Deloitte.

“It will likely take this type of private-public coordination and collaboration to leverage Trade 4.0 for the collective good - a cleaner, safer, equitable modern economy. The risks are endless, but so are the possibilities for a world facing Trade 4.0 head-on and moving toward a more connected, coherent, clean, and capable global trade ecosystem,” concludes Deloitte.

Read more

For more information on procurement, supply chain and logistics topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Supply Chain Digital.

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Share article

Jun 9, 2021

Upgrading RFID and Automated Track and Trace Solutions

Elise Leise
5 min
Why do decades-old tech like RFID remain relevant despite digital disruption - and which recent innovations can accelerate traceability and SCM?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chains faced the challenge of rapidly adjusting their business priorities to new customer preferences. Local supplier backlogs, winter storms, and the Suez Canal backup in March underscored the need for efficiency and visibility across the supply chain. 

According to Christof Backhaus, Digital Lead Product Supply and Smart Label Project Lead at Bayer, companies must now place critical importance on tracking and tracing their products. “All large enterprises in the world dealing with finished goods,” he said, “seek functional and technical solutions to real-time channel inventory.” 

Indeed, RFID’s real-time tracking data allows executives to make quick, well-informed decisions in moments of supply chain crisis - and rather than unfolding across days or weeks, it only takes a matter of minutes. 

Why does RFID remain relevant despite digital disruption? 


Essentially, RFID uses radio frequency waves to transfer data wirelessly between a scanner and a tag. In contrast to barcode technology, which requires a stationary scanner, RFID tags can be pinged from anywhere in the world, allowing companies to track real-time movement through the supply chain. RFID tags can also scan unique SKU numbers and distinguish between varying product sizes, colours, and styles: a critical feature for increasingly personalised end-user products. 


Though the first patent for RFID tags appeared in 1973, higher accuracy rates, lower costs, and advances in sensor and data technology have made it newly accessible to a wide range of companies. Today, the technology is used in logistics networks, manufacturing and delivery networks in the pharmaceutical industry, and any business where efficiently tracking and monitoring product location is critical: raw materials, consumer products, cars, electronics, retail, and agriculture. 

What are the key benefits? 


Overall, automated track and trace solutions keep labour costs low, optimise operating costs, mitigate security risks, use capital effectively, and assist companies in adhering to regulatory requirements. 

Below are three in-depth dives into how RFID benefits major industries: 


  • Pharmaceuticals: RFID tags help manufacturers safeguard sensitive products such as vaccines, tracking where they are and when they will arrive in real-time. Sensors closely monitor temperatures to ensure regulatory compliance. If anyone tampers with a shipment, the sensors alert the company. 
  • Logistics: RFID identifies process gaps and frequent anomalies by monitoring a product’s lifecycle from shipment to delivery. This data helps decision-makers predict the most efficient routes and therefore optimise their distribution schedules. 
  • Retail: Sensors help guard shipments against theft and provide critical intelligence when shipments go missing. Before adopting RFID technology in 2203, UK retailer Marks and Spencer relied on barcodes to scan inventory. When they made the switch, their productivity increased from a maximum of 400-600 items scanned per hour to up to 15,000 items scanned per hour. Building on their initial success, the retailer expanded the use of the technology and is still using it today. 

Regardless of the industry, RFID promotes accuracy, immediacy, and efficiency. Companies reduce human error by automatically scanning products, keep track of inventory even in geographic locations with poor connectivity, and help streamline warehouse operations by identifying exact product locations. 

Which recent innovations have changed the game? 


With recent developments in cloud technology and IoT, a multitude of cloud-based alternatives have emerged to challenge traditional RFID technology. One of these cutting-edge solutions is Sony’s Smart Label - an intelligent shipping label that runs on AT&T’s global cellular network. 

As with any good innovation, Sony’s proprietary technology started with a customer need ready to be solved: the Bayer Crop Science Division lacked an international IoT solution that could track seed products from start to finish throughout its distribution channel. Millions of dollars of revenue stood at stake, so Bayer turned to Sony to develop a smart label that would set the organisation up to manage its supply chain with end-to-end visibility. 

Sony’s printable and disposable adhesive label allows companies to track the condition and location of their products worldwide and act upon the vast amounts of data it collects. The process is simple: the label activates when attached to the package, connects to AT&T’s secure LTE-M network, and sends data to the Smart Label Cloud in real time. 

In sharp contrast to other smart label solutions that place trust in a patchwork combination of Wi-Fi, radio-frequency identification, and other limited coverage connections, the Sony Smart Label connects solely through a secure and universally-available cellular network. “Working with Sony,” says Robert Boyanovsky, the vice president of Mobility, IoT and 5G at AT&T, “we provide full visibility of every item shipped.” 

Most importantly for companies on the edge, the Smart Label integrates with existing enterprise systems to achieve full visibility, thus adding value without disrupting supply chain process flow. 

Why is this important now? 


Companies that previously delayed introducing RFID and other automated track-and-trace technologies can capitalise on recent developments that lower costs, improve accuracy, and supercharge traceability. 

Clearly the technology has value in today’s uncertain global marketplace, and can help decrease the costs of tracking goods. To quote Christof Backhaus, the Project Lead at Bayer, “the Smart Label indicates how much product is in the market, from the packaging line to the end customer.” Companies no longer have to spend a small fortune to take advantage of recent IoT developments. “Due to the technical composition [of the label],” Backhaus explains, “we don’t require additional infrastructure, manual scanning, or other expensive tools.” 

Over the decades since RFID was first introduced, support for introducing it to company supply chains has also improved. AT&T’s IoT Professional Services Organisation, for example, supports companies through the end-to-end design and integration process--from installation to deployment and project management. 

Companies that invest in traceable and visible supply chain solutions stand the best chance of survival, adjusting in real-time to natural disasters, shipping backups, and slowed-down supplier turnarounds as a result of the global pandemic. “Smart Label promises to help businesses like Bayer realise the full potential of the IoT,” says AT&T’s Boyanovsky. “[We can] deliver improvements in revenue and cost savings and make supply chains more efficient.” 

Certainly, company executives will be hard-pressed to ignore recent innovations. In an age of uncertainty, RFID and its challengers herald a welcome sense of supply chain security. The next step? “Our sales team,” Boyanovsky adds, “is prepared to engage with prospective customers now.” 


Share article