Logistics and IoT

Every logistics and transportation firm is or needs to be an IoT company. 

By Ryan Webber

Today’s supply chains are global, deeply complex and incredibly dynamic. Already, artificial intelligence-powered robotic warehouses are commonplace; self-driving trucks, drone delivery and more could all be a reality for us soon. Barely a week goes by without the news of new technologies that promise to transform logistics.

The implications are clear. Every logistics and transportation company either already is – or will need to become – an Internet of Things (IoT) company. As Erich L. Gampenrieder, global head of operations advisory and global head of Operations Center of Excellence at KMPG recently put it, “IoT is going to be a critical … way to monitor, manage and improve the supply chain. The entire basis of Industry 4.0 rests in machines talking to machines.”

Already, the logistics and transportation industry can be understood as a long set of machine-to-machine conversations about everything from inventory to warehouse management, transportation routes, fuel efficiency and proof of delivery. Those conversations happen between ruggedized handheld scanners to beacons to database, Linux vending machine to dashboard-mounted Android tablet, ad infinitum.

“Can you send 100 refrigerated widgets to our warehouse in California?”

“We’re low on stock, I’ll send 75 today and 25 next week.”

“OK, the truck just left the dock, your first 75 widgets will be there Thursday.”

“Hey, maintenance? This is the refrigerated truck. The temperature is OK now, but you’d better check the Freon when we get there. We’re getting good fuel mileage, though. I’ll send you a detailed report.”

Fifty years ago, the critical task in logistics was keeping your truck fleet moving. Now, the critical task is keeping your devices working and your data moving. This means robust enterprise mobility management (EMM) is a critically important part of how logistics and transportation is managed.

Any breakdown in machine-to-machine conversations will result in costly delays (not good when you have razor-thin margins) and reduced visibility. Frustration soars, and customer satisfaction plummets.

But these machine-to-machine conversations can only happen if the devices scattered all over the enterprise – and in logistics, they are literally all over the map – are able to talk to each other. But anything that can go wrong, will.

The IoT Tower of Babel 

Already, the boom in IoT is creating a machine-to-machine Tower of Babel. There’s a hodgepodge of operating systems and versions and hardware. It’s important to lock down devices so that they can only be used for their intended purpose. For example, a typical ruggedized scanner is a purpose-built Windows smartphone.

If it’s not locked down, you can bet that the batteries will be drained by drivers checking Facebook while waiting for the truck to get loaded. A tablet that’s not remotely managed might mean that a colleague might update the operating system when prompted, not realizing it will break the purpose-built software inside.

That’s not to mention that every time you hit the road, the road might hit back. Handheld scanners will get dropped and break. Tablets will fail at exactly the wrong moment. Batteries will die. So it goes.

All of this means that it’s critical that troubleshooting can happen remotely. If a driver has to detour to some center to exchange a device that isn’t working properly for one that does, that’s an expensive problem. Smart logistics is about anticipating what might go wrong and having a plan to manage it.

The Electronic Log Device (ELD) mandate, which took effect in December 2017, requires every long-haul driver in North America to electronically log his or her hours. If the dashboard-mounted tablet where a driver logs his hours freezes, crashes or worse, fines can rise fast. Non-compliance can be costly, exceeding $8,000 for each acute violation.

Leading-edge logistics companies are looking at ELDs as an opportunity, not just an unavoidable cost. They’re adding everything from integrated GPS and dashcams, to engine diagnostics and IFTA fuel tax reporting.

Ryan Webber is the director of enterprise mobility at SOTI where he oversees global mobility strategies for Fortune 100 companies looking to harness the power of mobility to transform their operations. He leverages his unique expertise with more than 15 years of experience working in the mobile space, to help SOTI customers across a variety of sectors including retail, healthcare and field services.