Bridging the “Last Mile”: The next generation of tracing

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Bridging the “Last Mile”: The next generation of tracing

The Last Mile: Experts now expect that IoT is likely to provide the next generation of track and trace: faster, more accurate and predictive, and more secure.

Using IoT means that supply chain firms gain clearer visibility on the movement of goods – foot by foot, second by second. This translates into item-level condition monitoring, enabling companies to ensure that goods arrive in time, at the right place, and intact.

The final part of the delivery journey (the “last mile”) is highly dependent on labor. As consumer demands become more sophisticated and delivery points continue to multiply, logistics providers face new challenges. They need to find creative new solutions for this important stage in the supply chain – cost-effective solutions that provide value for the end customer and operational efficiency for the logistics provider.

IoT inside the last mile connects logistics providers with the end recipient and does it in new ways. If this level of detailed information becomes available for a single product, last-mile logistics providers have much greater transparency on parcel contents (assuming the customer allows it). This kind of visibility enables the supply chain players to understand, for example, if an item requires specif attention to temperature or if it is particularly fragile. This would, of course, add complexity to delivery, but it would also create an opportunity to increase service standards for customers and end consumers.

In this area, there are many relevant use cases; here are some examples:

  • Optimized mailbox collections using sensors inside the mailbox to report if mail is inside
  • Automatic replenishment and anticipatory shipping, combining sensor data with customer data
  • Flexible delivery address using tagged parcels for customer tracking and flexible change of address, plus possibly smart home sensors for presence detection
  • Monetization/optimization of return trip
  • Next-gen visibility into individual item condition and integrity over the product’s life with more sophisticated RFID or other sensor tags – including on items on retail shelves. Many new solutions abound for these use cases. Three compelling examples – all from startups – are worth looking at here:

Postybell: Their smart mailbox uses sensors that detect when mail has been placed in a private mailbox and can also monitor the wetness inside the mailbox. A delivery then triggers an alert to the recipient’s phone via GSM. They can, for example, be reminded to check their mailbox or keep track of it while they are on holiday.

Shyp: Their flexible shipping services allow consumers to simply take a picture of the item they need shipped and enter all delivery information in an app – and then a Shyp employee collects the item for packing and delivery.

Thinfilm: This firm’s smart memory labels are a sight to behold. The company has recently experimented with Diageo on the concept of a smart whiskey bottle that provides consumers with information on integrity as well as other add-ons such as promotional offers.

Building an ecosystem

Successfully implementing IoT in logistics will require strong collaboration, along with high levels of participation among different players and competitors within the supply chain, and a common willingness to invest. The shared end goal will be to create a thriving IoT ecosystem.

In use cases to date, several key success factors are evident in a good IoT deployment:

  • Standardized approaches for the use of unique identifiers or “tags” for various types of assets among different industries, on a global scale
  • Seamless interoperability for exchanging sensor information in heterogeneous environments
  • Establishing trust and shared ownership of data to overcome privacy issues in IoT-powered supply chains
  • Focusing on reference architecture
  • Changing the business mindset to embrace IoT’s full potential.

Important questions remain about the future of IoT, particularly in the realms of work, security, and privacy. As noted in this report, IoT presents many opportunities for automation, and this is likely to change how some logistics jobs are performed. Connecting what’s previously been unconnected may, in some circumstances, highlight new security vulnerabilities. As information technology and operational technology combine and interconnect, there may well be some new points of ingress for hackers, cyber criminals, terrorists, mischief-makers, and others who wish to do harm.

Last Mile - Map Cargo Net

Gone missing: Theft costs shippers and logistics providers billions of dollars each year, including inventory delay impacts, and in the costs of stolen goods. CargoNet recorded 741 cases of cargo theft last year in the US and Canada alone.

It’s vital that all supply chain actors, including government and the hightech industry, collaborate to ensure IoT security is prioritized on technology agendas in the coming years. All actors will need to devote significant financial and human resources to counter wrongdoing.

Indeed, as IoT evolves to reach its full potential, IoT solution providers must address the legitimate concerns raised by citizens and policymakers about privacy and control of personal information.

When we connect the unconnected – when we light up “dark assets” – vast amounts of information emerge, along with potential new insights and business value. A connected shoe, for example, can tell its owner (or a researcher, or a manufacturer) the number of footfalls in a given period of time, or the force with which the foot strikes the ground. A connected street light can sense the presence of cars, providing information to drivers and city officials for route planning, optimizing traffic flows. A connected forklift can alert a warehouse manager to an impending mechanical problem, or a safety risk, creating greater location intelligence of warehouse inventory.

What comes next? According to Steven Tiell, Accenture’s Sr. Principal, Technology Vision + Digital Trust, “as the birthplace of data, IoT devices and the subsequent data supply chains they’re connected to are ground zero for conversations about data ethics.

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