IoT in the Supply Chain: Anticipating the Demands of the Future

By Michael Colaneri

The Internet of Things can help companies differentiate, expand markets, grow revenues and please customers, by enabling them to gather, analyze and communicate valuable data.

In today's highly competitive business climate, companies big and small are searching for an edge. They're looking to differentiate, expand markets, grow revenues and please customers. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are well suited for this environment, with the ability to gather, analyze and communicate valuable data.

The market and consumers demand convenience and customization. Thus, business velocity relies on near-real-time data and automated decision-making. The internet offers the speed and ubiquity to meet consumers' need for choices and rapid response, but the traditional supply chain and fulfillment process can't match such a pace. As a result, operational flow has been completely inverted.

Raw material was once manufactured into product, then distributed and sold. These days, businesses must stay tapped into end users and their interests to sell products. Without this insight, inventory can end up sitting on shelves, and value spirals. For more accurate sales projections and efficient operations, timing an item's shelf life has become dependent on data. It also requires reflexive and innovative response. Connecting dynamic, near-real-time end-user interest with sourcing and production is key. It helps to lessen overruns, speed time to market and control costs. The IoT better connects assets and end users. It has become the core of operational value.

Imagine being able to anticipate and identify consumers' wants and needs before materials even head to production, or customizing orders before sourcing and fulfillment in near-real time. This is nearly impossible without machine-to-machine sequencing. Including feedback from fleets, field operations and distribution affects the entire ecosystem faster, helps to sustain a competitive advantage and may determine relevance.

As more things become connected, the potential end-points for intrusion increase. IoT-connected assets and traditional devices, like laptops, tablets and mobile phones, may be connecting through a business's core network. When transmitting and sharing data across a company's operating system, these components can potentially pose security risks. Businesses should view the IoT as no different than their current security governance. Security needs will only multiply as IoT technology grows. Supply chains need to prioritize security when defining an IoT strategy.

With the growth of the IoT and security risks comes security service growth. AT&T Enterprise Mobility Management manages devices, connected assets, applications and content with policy control and enforcement. AT&T Mobile Threat Defense can help detect and protect assets from malicious apps and network-based or physical attacks, and can notify policy leads with options for corrective action before a company becomes compromised. And AT&T Private Mobile Connect extends an enterprise's wide-area network (WAN) infrastructure QoS into a mobile network. This means better visibility and control across an entire supply chain operation.

There's no denying that business is moving faster. Key functions that once provided tactical support are being reengineered with automation and connectivity. Nowhere else is the demand for technology expedition more critical than in the supply chain. There, the IoT can help businesses keep pace with demand. Faster operations mean faster end-to-end productivity, creating a fluid supply chain that's central to an entire market.

Michael Colaneri is the VP of retail, restaurant and consumer package goods at AT&T. He has assembled an extensive ecosystem of partners that complement the company's suite of services and analytics capabilities, thereby delivering fully integrated technology platforms that connect retail and CPG businesses to consumers at home, while traveling, through social, multi-media and e-commerce mechanisms. Michael is responsible for insuring an integrated, enterprise-wide customer experience for these very distinct Fortune 200 clients, and he serves as lead retail and CPG industry expert internally and externally to the AT&T corporation