August 24, 2018

3 Technologies that are Driving Change in the Supply Chain

Written by
Meagan Douglas

The supply chain is facing a wave of innovation as a variety of technologies converge to drive change at some of the deepest levels of operations. From highly-specialized robots to monitoring devices that track assets across just about any location, the possibilities are nearly endless. Within this climate, data is king, and businesses increasingly find themselves needing solutions that make it easier to collect information and make it actionable to users.

A wide range of solutions are emerging to help organizations drive change in this new operational climate, but three major technologies stand out as indicators of the change that is on the horizon.

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT has been discussed as a major emerging technology for a while now, but it still deserves attention as real-world projects begin to shift from early pilot initiatives to larger use cases.

In many cases, early IoT projects were primarily pilots focused on solving highly specific problems. For example, using a sensor to monitor a specific machine that regularly causes issues for the maintenance team. This kind of small-scale project only involves a few devices and is easy to manage.

These entry-level projects have begun to expand as many companies move from pilot projects and highly-nuanced use cases. For example, instead of simply monitoring a specialized machine, organizations may expand to using IoT sensors to support maintenance on all their machinery. In the same way, IoT projects across supply chain, inventory management and even end-user services are gaining momentum.

Combining strategic IoT projects with mobile data collection advances can streamline how users gather information and allow employees to fill in the data gaps that the IoT can’t handle effectively, such as cycle counts.

2. Blockchain

While the IoT is starting to gain momentum in specific use cases, blockchain is still in a much earlier maturation stage. An Inc. Magazine report pointed out that blockchain could serve as a central location to reduce comprehensive records for any product. The result is a clear audit trail of who interacted with different goods, when they did so and how various materials moved across stages of production and delivery. With this in place, organizations can:

  • More easily track shipments from suppliers and out to customers
  • Identify the true source of materials to reduce fraud or counterfeiting
  • Automate regulatory auditing processes to streamline compliance efforts

Blockchain is solidifying itself across the financial sector as a foundation upon which many cryptocurrencies are built. While additional development is needed to create applications and underlying infrastructure to make blockchain viable in supply chain use cases, momentum is already moving in that direction and progress could happen quickly.

Inc. Magazine summed up the situation by pointing out that blockchain’s rise is inevitable and organizations should prepare to deal with the growing pains of early blockchain progress because the long-term potential of this technology is too great to ignore.

3. Augmented Reality

Both the IoT and blockchain fall under a common theme: they help organizations gather information from diverse sources and make that data accessible to the business. The IoT does this by automatically monitoring assets and equipment that would be too cumbersome to track manually while blockchain delivers transparency by eliminating data gaps that exist within the supply chain. Augmented reality (AR) promises to take all of this information and give it to users in the most actionable way possible.

AR solutions present content in a digital overlay on physical objects. For example, a maintenance worker wearing AR goggles may have a heads-up display showing a diagram of how to install a new part while working on equipment. A warehouse manager, on the other hand, may pull up a list of goods that are supposed to be in a shipment and have the data show on a heads-up display while logging the goods’ arrival with a barcode scanner. If the app being delivered to the AR goggles and the data collection software are integrated, the heads-up display could update in real time.

It is not only promising because of its ability to make data more actionable, but also because it can run on simple goggles, allowing for hands-free computing. Fortune Magazine reported that the technology is already becoming accessible as AR starts to gain ground in supply chain tasks, particularly last-mile delivery, interactions between humans and robots, and pick-and-pack processes.

Preparing for a Faster, Fresher Supply Chain

Data has always been critical in the supply chain, but emerging technologies are giving businesses opportunities to gather new types of information and use it in more intuitive ways. As you prepare for the next stages of technology innovation in your supply chain, don’t ignore the foundational data collection systems that are necessary to capitalize on the solutions emerging in the market. Whether you are looking to digitize your processes from paper or simply become more efficient in how your employees capture data, enterprise collection solutions like those offered by RFgen can help.

Supply chain software offers a wide range of mobile data collection and enterprise resource planning system integration solutions, laying the groundwork for long-term tech strategies such as the IoT, blockchain and AR. As the supply chain gets faster, make sure your teams have the tools they need to collect information quickly and in line with the rest of the work they are doing.

Meagan Douglas, chief marketing officer for RFgen, leads the strategic planning and integrated communications channels for the company. She has over 20-years of experience in marketing through various industries. She has spent her career providing brand growth to large domestic and international companies. Meagan holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and is currently completing her master’s degree in strategic communications from Purdue University.