Why connectivity is key to protecting supply chains
The past 100 years has seen the traditional supply chain evolve from a straight-forward, but labour-intensive process to an era of engineering marvels and extraordinarily complex and diverse range of global networks.
Whilst technology is viewed as a saviour by many supply chain managers looking to lower administrative overheads and advance the speed and accuracy with which information flows, it has proven to be a double-edged sword – making the actual physical supply chain a little bit more difficult to manage.
Whether it’s ensuring supplier quality and performance, or fulfilling environmental and regulatory compliance, supply chain managers have to tackle these challenges while also needing to achieve accurate forecasts and drive cost efficiencies.
Perhaps the most pressing challenge is one born from increasingly dispersed and flexible supply chains, is protecting the supply chain; an obstacle that will never truly go away. Whilst the risk from cyber threats applies to supply chains and third-party logistics providers as much as the next organisation, it’s the traditional problems such as theft, inventory shortages and fire, which persist as long-standing risks to mitigate.
We already use technology to enable greater supply chain efficiency and visibility, by embedding it throughout the organisation in the form of electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity to collect and exchange data during interactions. But are we using this information in the best way? Especially when you consider how the miniaturisation of technology and reliability improvements allows for Internet of Things (IoT) devices to be used at almost every touchpoint in the supply chain.
As every supply chain manager knows, there are hundreds of endpoints to manage in any supply chain across picking, logistics systems, payments, scheduling and compliance, to name but a few. In order to protect the supply chain effectively, we need to be able to understand what is happening at any point in space or time on a consignment’s journey, throughout production, storage and transportation.
We need to move away from collecting data in isolation for retrospective reporting, rather use it to inform real-time analysis and decision making. Connecting data across systems in real-time is the key, giving the system and managers the ability to have an elevated, updated and accurate view of their supply chain at any moment.
Whether it is a radio-frequency ID tag on a pallet passing through a sensor, a calibration device on a piece of machinery, or an temperature device on a lorry carrying chilled goods, the transmission of data will either change a status, or trigger a real-time decision and action that which must take place in that moment. This is the real-time supply chain, and that connectivity between systems is the key to protecting the supply chain.
Temperature sensors are a great example of this. If the temperature drops below a threshold we need to raise an alarm – both on the lorry and in the supply chain – that might come from a single warning data transmission. However, if the sensor had been constantly transmitting data, these systems may have assessed much earlier that the trailer was struggling to maintain its required temperature.
Such real-time analysis would not only better inform and accelerate the decision making process as to whether to take the trailer off the road for servicing, but also determine the best time for this to occur as well as modify distribution schedules to accommodate the now delayed service. Thus completely avoiding a lorry full of perished goods and the logistics nightmare of needing to take a refrigerated trailer out of service.
Many companies are now experimenting with using artificial intelligence as a way to make these real-time decisions, by reviewing trends in data over longer periods of time. The same approach can identify trends that might indicate fraudulent activity within the supply chain, or the gradual decline in efficiency of certain transport routes.
No matter how extensive or complex, supply chain managers need to look at how they can incorporate these technologies and improve the connectivity of data across their supply chains, if they are to mitigate and protect themselves from risks. You cannot secure a dynamic supply chain if systems lack the agility to keep up with the threat.
In order to maintain your supply chains flexibility, you must audit existing systems in place, the data you have at your disposal, and the processes you see as key to protecting your supply chain. This will help identify where there are gaps in your data, and how replacing systems, or connecting them, can help you make processes more efficient, even automated.
While such projects might appear seem arduous and risky it’s important to remember there’s no greater risk than standing still. Once you have assessed your systems and processes there will be immediate opportunities to address mission critical risks. Connectivity doesn’t need to be a complete rip-and-refurbish, but a step-by-step process that gives you the confidence to demonstrate true business value. The only question remaining is whether you start this journey before your stakeholders demand to know why your supply chain isn’t secure.
RAIN RFID, IoT and AI are key to a proactive supply chain
Across supply chains around the world, we have seen leading companies rely heavily on technologies like AI and IoT during the pandemic. These digital solutions have enabled businesses to accurately capture and ultimately use their own first-party data to drive efficiencies and protect increasingly fragile bottom lines.
However, what is less commonly known is the increasing role of RAIN RFID technology in supporting IoT solutions. By using RAIN RFID to capture item data and then feed that data into AI systems, businesses can identify inefficiencies within the supply chain and make informed decisions.
What is RAIN RFID?
In short, RAIN RFID is a powerful IoT technology that enables itemised data collection. By applying small, battery-free tags to items, organisations can identify, locate, and authenticate each of those items, scanning up to thousands of items simultaneously with a variety of devices, including hand-held, fixed and wearable readers.
RAIN RFID solutions dramatically improve the operational capabilities of an organisation by ensuring they have exactly the right items, in the right quantities, at the right locations, at the right time. During the pandemic, RAIN RFID solutions have been key to limiting disruptions in retail and manufacturing supply chains, most notably by increasing inventory and asset visibility and improving the management and flow of goods.
Three ways RAIN RFID helps solve supply chain concerns
RAIN RFID is used to streamline processes, maintain real-time inventory, increase productivity, and help manage labour shortages. We see three key ways RAIN RFID helps solve supply chain concerns:
- Automate shipment verification: Today, significant labour is required for multiple, manual barcode scans during the shipment process. RAIN RFID tags can be read automatically without a direct line of sight, erasing the need for workers to pause, locate a barcode, and scan it. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders can automate their shipment verification process and improve warehouse efficiencies by up to 25%.
- Deliver real-time visibility: Retail Systems Research says that 76% of supply chain survey respondents reported that real-time inventory visibility was their leading focus for improving performance. When supply chain managers lack information about the status of assets and shipments moving into and out of warehouses, confidence and productivity suffer. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders gain real-time visibility into an item’s identity, usage, and location. With this information, they can quickly find inventory and assets, and reduce the cost of asset investments.
- Improve order accuracy: Today, companies rely on redundant manual checks to verify that the right cartons are loaded onto the correct pallets. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders can automate pallet build verification to streamline the process and increase order accuracy. In fact, a recent study by Auburn University found that RAIN RFID can help an organisation achieve up to 100% order accuracy, eliminating claims costs and unhappy customers.
RAIN RFID can increase value of AI-powered analytics
In today’s AI-driven, rapid decision-making business environment, RAIN RFID is uniquely capable of making systems more effective. This is because it provides item identifiers for tracking and locating billions of items, from clothing to food, pharmaceuticals, tools, packages, pallets, and more.
It also works without line-of-sight, providing visibility into places and processes not previously available. The data provided by a RAIN RFID system can give AI-powered solutions the ability to see individual items throughout the supply chain, understand how the entire supply chain is functioning and identify which areas can be improved.
As companies accelerate digital transformation, we expect to see a rise in interconnected data as investments into new technologies and IoT surge. But as the volume of real-time and accurate data about the movement of goods rises, so too do the demands on operations teams to make sound business decisions quickly and with confidence, often using AI-powered systems that thrive on improved data to make better decisions.
As an example, over the past several years, Delta Airlines transformed its customer experience by investing in technology including real-time RAIN RFID bag tracking and automatic check-in via the Fly Delta mobile app. Delta is now leveraging this set of investments in their implementation of an AI-driven platform that analyses millions of operational data points, from luggage movement to aircraft positions to flight crew restrictions to airport conditions. This system simulates operating challenges and creates hypothetical scenarios that help Delta’s professionals make critical operational decisions that improve the overall customer experience.
The need to drive digital transformation rapidly during the pandemic has made supply chain and logistics professionals increasingly tech savvy. As we prepare for a post-pandemic era, companies’ increased know-how and awareness of solutions like RAIN RFID, IoT and AI will play a key role in evolving the industry’s approach to solving supply chain issues from reactive to proactive, setting them up for future success.