Location-as-a-Service Solution to Bring Global Supply Chains into View

By Claire Swedberg

Qualcomm has teamed with Cloudleaf to provide an Internet of Things-based solution that tracks assets and goods to help multiple stakeholders understand an item's location, condition and status as it moves through complex environments.

A partnership between two technology companies has led to an end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution for managing goods through complex, global supply chains. Semiconductor company  Qualcomm Technologies is leveraging the cloud-based software for supply chain data solutions firm  Cloudleaf. The solution, known as Logistics-as-a-Service (LaaS), is intended to help parties across a supply chain manage goods' location and status.

The system leverages Qualcomm's sensors and IoT Services Suite, using Cloudleaf's Digital Visibility platform to attain artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) data regarding the movements and conditions of products and assets. Qualcomm has deployed the solution at its own headquarters in San Diego, Calif., as part of its Smart Campus test bed, to capture the location and status of assets. The company is currently in discussions with businesses in three sectors to deploy the solution: logistics, asset management and healthcare supply chain tracking.

Sanjeet Pandit

With logistics, the LaaS solution is aimed at the management of goods being transported or stored, in some cases from the point of manufacture to a store or consumer. Asset-management applications consist of tracking items and the conditions of a company's assets that might be moved across a single campus or travel to other locations. And healthcare companies range from pharmaceutical manufacturers to labs planning to deploy the solution for such applications as vaccine management, to ensure vaccines reach patients prior to their expiration dates.

With any deployment, the companies explain, the goal is to provide a simple, end-to-end solution for what could be a complex supply chain. In most cases, users would acquire sensor devices powered by Qualcomm chips that capture sensor data and transmit it via cellular connectivity or Wi-Fi. Qualcomm's approach, according to Sanjeet Pandit, the firm's senior director of business development, is what he refers to as "ABC" (always best connected) technology. The devices are able to transmit data using technology and frequencies available at each site where the information is being collected.

The LaaS offering is part of Qualcomm IoT Services Suite, released in December 2020. The Digital Visibility software manages data captured from Qualcomm's components, says Mahesh Veerina, Cloudleaf's CEO. Qualcomm began working with Cloudleaf as a location services solution provider and subject-matter expert, Pandit says. "We [at Qualcomm] are experts in treating complex and high-level systems problems," he states. "The more complex it is, in terms of having traceability from dock to deck, the more Qualcomm is equipped to provide a solution."

That, in part, is due to the data captured in Cloudleaf's software platform, Veerina says. The five-year-old Silicon Valley company provides its Digital Visibility platform for use across multiple industries, with a focus on supply chain and cold chain location management. Pharmaceutical, packaging, logistics and biomedical firms, for example, utilize the technology to track the locations and statuses of vaccines and equipment (see  Companies Team Up for IoT-based Vaccine Supply Chain Management).

Mahesh Veerina

Qualcomm's movement into IoT technology has been under way throughout the past year, the company indicates. Traditionally, the firm has provided wireless semiconductor products and software. Recently, Pandit says, Qualcomm has been moving up the stack with what it calls its "chip-to-cloud offering," and the company began working with Cloudleaf to enable precise location and sensor data management.

"We take their subject-matter expertise [to create] an end-to-end solution to serve use cases across multiple domains," Pandit says, adding, "Anything that requires precise location and trackability" can leverage the LaaS solution. For the past several months, businesses in multiple industries have been leveraging the partnership's technology. Several companies are now launching deployments, he reports, though they have asked to remain unnamed. In the meantime, Pandit says, Qualcomm and Cloudleaf are now commercially releasing the solution, which is available from both companies, as well as from a third-party reseller.

Multiple companies in the manufacturing industry have been piloting the technology to track tools and high-value assets in order to monitor their location and condition throughout the supply chain. One use case, Qualcomm notes, involves the tracking of assets for telecommunications companies. Several such companies, for instance, are in the process of moving antennas, radios and other assets to remote locations as they begin the task of deploying the 5G network.

By applying Qualcomm's sensors to the assets, and by leveraging Cloudleaf's software, these businesses can capture and share data regarding where goods are located, as well as the conditions under which they are being stored. Qualcomm's San Diego headquarters is using the solution for asset management. In late 2020, the company launched the LaaS system to identify the conditions and precise locations of coolers, chillers and other machines, along with items stored in cold storage, and also palletized goods.

Healthcare companies are using the technology to track vaccines. With sensors on cold chain containers, companies can view a vaccine's location in the supply chain, whether or not temperatures are within the appropriate range, and which ones are set to expire before others. They can then obtain a real-time analysis to understand any changes that need to be made throughout the supply chain. Pandit describes the solution's analysis data as "predictive, prescriptive and pre-emptive," adding, "That gives you enough data to make decisions that would not have been available" without the technology.

To enable the analytics, Veerina says, Cloudleaf captures data and provides its AI and ML insights to create business rules which can then be acted upon. This can include understanding when something has passed through a geofence, is experiencing delays or has exceeded acceptable temperature parameters. Operations personnel can proactively take action and thereby reduce the risk of needing to dispose of items, ultimately reducing waste.

Data can be shared across an ecosystem, and users can provide a portal for each customer or stakeholder in that ecosystem. "All get to see that same truth to know exactly what is going on with that product," Veerina states. "At the end of the day, you're solving a specific challenge," Pandit adds, whether it's a complex supply chain of goods from manufacturing in Taiwan to end users around the world, or a simple system tracking goods within a single water-bottling plant.

In addition to reducing waste, the solution is aimed at ensuring the timely delivery of goods, improving the customer experience, increasing efficiency and boosting sustainability. "We have a holistic end-to-end approach that takes out the major complexity for the end user," Veerina says. "That makes it easier for them to focus on what matters," such as making or delivering quality products.

Although the companies say the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for such a solution, the technology will continue to benefit businesses after the crisis has passed. "We are here for the long run," Pandit states. "This is something we really feel is going to change how the industry does its business."