Last week, Trevor Miles wrote "SMAC in the Middle of Supply Chain Change" and it made me recall the dozen or so articles I've read recently on the Internet of Things (IoT). I find that most have a similar opening - 30 billion or so devices will be connected by 2017 and more “things” will be connected than human beings on the earth. More and more sensors are getting embedded in the “things” and leading to an explosion of information availability.
But in all fairness, this is indeed an unprecedented opportunity to leverage IoT for a transformation of the supply planning paradigm. A multitude of challenges are emerging from a rapidly evolving supply & demand environment that warrant a fresh look at planning – really to assess the level of entropy! So when I started to think about planning processes in the context of IoT, I was wondering if we can conquer those two old enemies of planning effectiveness: information deficiency and information latency. The prospect seems exciting - new offerings targeted to finely segmented markets customized to individual customers, and movement of goods providing continuous visibility. Will IoT design enable us to get demand signals from the products and sensory information from the entire set of physical infrastructure for planning? It is evident that this is crucial, as most manufacturers are still citing incidents of supply chain disruptions resulting from the lack of information visibility. In a 2013 survey by Business Continuity Institute of over 500 business continuity professionals from 71 countries, 75% of respondents reported that they did not have full visibility of their supply chains. From the proceedings at the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress in Detroit earlier this month, it certainly appeared that the green shoots are in sight. Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, announced a partnership for the development of a 125 mile long corridor of Intelligent and Connected Infrastructure in collaboration with academia, government and industry. While it by no means provides complete coverage, it is a bold start to create a truly interconnected ecosystem that will generate information efficiencies and not information overload for extreme planning.
Umberto Eco writes that “Any fact becomes important when it's connected to another.” Perhaps a philosophical underpinning to the possibilities from convergence of physical and digital supply chain? The path to realization certainly lies in synchronous orchestration of multiple technologies. Applying Systems Thinking to all aspects of planning in supply chain will therefore help to improve the “input” and create better “closed loop feedback”. The developing IoT ecosystem certainly has the potential for eliminating the information latency and deficiency that we see today in the planning processes. What do you think? Comment back and share your thoughts.