The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that is still very much in its infancy. It refers to the rapidly expanding universe of items that have some kind of embedded communications technology that allows them to communicate with other objects and networks around them.
In our recent Whitepaper, "The Internet of Things and the modern supply chain", we looked at how it's evolving and some of the opportunities and pitfalls that the use of these new technologies may present for users within supply chain applications.
One area that looks promising is the development of applications using smartphones. Smartphones have a number of things going for them as supply chain tools:
- They are ubiquitous. Not everyone has one, but they are increasingly common, to the point that in 2015, 64 percent of American  adults own a smart phone (and similar number of Canadians ) and the number is growing rapidly. This means that information can be collected from, and disseminated to, vast groups very efficiently.
- They are extremely powerful computing devices. As we noted in the Whitepaper, hand-held modern smartphones are vastly more powerful than the best computers of 30 years ago, and those filled rooms.
- They are connected in multiple ways. Most smartphones have multiple sensors, from cameras, to accelerometers to light sensitivity and temperature. Miniaturization has its limits, but the packages we have now are packed with technology that has potential far beyond the realm of social media selfie-transmission.
So, what are some of the supply chain applications we can expect to see for smartphones?
Tracking is one that's already in use and gaining ground. In fact, Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry, as part of its corporate reinvention, is marketing an IoT platform with two application areas—automotive and asset tracking. (3)
Using the smartphone will enable tracking of assets such as shipping containers, including monitoring conditions inside and outside the box for accurate chain of custody reporting. The information gathered could be securely shared among the cargo owners, carriers and those who are processing them across borders or ports of entry.
BlackBerry also suggests the smartphone platform can be used to schedule last-mile deliveries by tracking the movements of trucks and predicting arrival times. This has potential application for both last mile delivery to consumers as well as scheduling of inbound truckloads to DCs or retail outlets.
Smartphone technology, through the use of accelerometers, can also be used to monitor the way trucks are being driven. Being aware of bad driver habits like hard braking and fast acceleration opens the door to education that can help reduce fuel costs, accidents and wear and tear on vehicles.
The potential cost savings for businesses are vast, if these technologies can be exploited effectively. The information that smartphones can aggregate and disseminate holds immense potential.
The challenge, however—and it's one familiar to any smartphone user who is regularly confronted with a slew of useless apps that promise much and do nothing—will be to weed out the applications that are of little to no use and encourage the development of apps that deliver (pun intended).
We invite you to download our white paper ‘The Internet of Things and the Modern Supply Chain’ for more information on the subject.
- With Growth Comes Change: The Evolving Mobile Landscape in 2015.
- U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015, Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center
April 1, 2015. www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/
- Blackberry website. ca.blackberry.com/internet-of-things/