Innovation crucialJon Hall, group operations manager, TouchStar Technologies comments…

Recent figures suggest that Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices will reach 26 billion by 2020, up from 0.9bn in 2009. By 2017, it’s expected that close to half of all information exchanged on the Internet will be from non-PC devices.

Although many people – both inside and outside of the logistics industry – talk about the IoT in terms of potential and speculation, there are many ways that it could make an instant impact to the supply chain environment today.

It’s the same scenario that I remember when businesses first discovered the advantages of using mobile devices in the warehouse environment. Of course there are challenges in taking on a new technology, but the benefits can be overwhelming when a new solution is implemented correctly with the help of an experienced partner.

The IoT will be the next big step towards meeting the demand for faster manufacturing processes and delivery, of that I am sure. Having all devices connect to a centralised cloud network to capture and share data can give warehouse managers real-time visibility of how operations can be improved.

In a way, it’s similar to the Team GB track cycling mantra of the ‘marginal gains’ effect. When you have this amount of data, it can be broken down into many smaller parts. If you can improve each part by even one per cent, this will produce a significant improvement to the overall operation.Obtaining the right data to make these improvements is like hitting the jackpot, and that’s why so many global firms are investing in IoT solutions right now.

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A Forrester report from last November found that 65% of global firms they surveyed across a variety of sectors, including retail, manufacturing and transportation, have deployed or are in the process of deploying IoT solutions. In addition, 80% agreed that IoT solutions will be the most strategic technology initiative in their organisations over the next decade. Of the benefits, 49% of firms said IOT solutions would improve customer experience. Supply chain optimisation, visibility and loss prevention were all also highlighted by more than 40% of those surveyed.

So the IoT is a big deal for global firms, but what about the smallerbusinesses? If investment has already been made into mobile devices, then IoT solutions can often be implemented not only to boost inventory management and business processes but to deliver greater asset intelligence – allowing warehouse managers to make informed decisions on where to make those all important marginal gains.

The use of mobile devices in warehouse environments and beyond has reduced the time it takes to log data and dramatically improved the accuracy of that data. The next step is how we manage and share that data. For example, in-transit visibility will become a key battleground as several technologies can be brought together using IoT. If a pallet has a RFID chip in it, which is scanned as it is loaded into a vehicle, this data can be transferred to the cloud and combined with all sorts of other data, such as location, traffic conditions and even driver-specific information.

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In some ways businesses can take inspiration from the consumer side of IoT – think smart, personalised, maybe even wearable tech – because both use the same core principle: to intelligently connect people, processes, and devices and share data. But the major difference is that the consumer world is waiting for that one big reason to get excited about the IoT. In the warehouse and logistics world, it’s about the many smaller improvements that can make a difference.

It’s a great time to take a step back, assess your current situation and consider the marginal gains that you could be making. My advice would be not to wait – find out how the IoT could work for you now.