IoT in the Supply Chain

Establishing a Supply Chain Focused IoT Platform

Over the last few years I have been posting blogs on how the Internet of Things will impact future supply chain operations. More recently I discussed IoT in the context of digital transformation. The term ‘IoT Platform’ has just started to enter the vocabulary of the CIO and I thought I would use this blog to explain how I believe OpenText Enterprise Information Management (EIM) solutions could underpin and support an IoT based platform strategy.

Ever since cloud-based solutions started to go mainstream in around 2011, there have been numerous attempts to define cloud-based ‘platforms’. Some platforms offer cloud-based ‘brokerage’ services, others offer infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS).

Gartner defined the term ‘integration brokerage’, a term which nicely encapsulates the various B2B solutions that are offered today by OpenText™ Business Network, the world’s largest cloud-based B2B integration platform. With OpenText offering many different cloud-based solutions today, I thought it would be interesting to share my own views on how OpenText EIM solutions could support a new emerging type of cloud platform, the IoT platform.

For the purposes of this blog I am going to refer to the term IoT, but of course over the last four years a number of regional derivatives of this term have emerged, and the market seems to be struggling to find the perfect term that is universally accepted:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): this is the most popular term in use today and was originally defined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 as part of his research at the AutoID Center
  • Internet of Everything (IoE): introduced by Cisco in 2013 to reflect the people and process aspects of IoT
  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): introduced by GE and other North American industrial companies in 2013, GE Digital was formed to develop the smart industrial environment of the future
  • Industry4.0: introduced in 2013 by industrial companies in Germany such as Bosch and Siemens to reflect the fourth industrial revolution and the need to have a more process centric IoT environment
  • Industrial Value Chain: introduced in 2015 by companies in Japan, looking to develop their own standard for connected devices across industrial applications
  • Internet Plus: introduced in 2015 by Chinese based companies, once again keen to develop their own approach to leveraging the information coming from connected devices

So as you can see above, even before we standardize on how information is captured from connected devices, how it is transmitted and how it is archived, I think we need a common naming approach to what we are actually dealing with here! As I said above, for the purposes of this blog I am going to simply refer to this as IoT.

IoT is certainly one of the hot investment areas at the moment, touching nearly every industry sector in some way and new use cases for IoT seem to be appearing on an almost daily basis. A few weeks ago I saw a post from IDC where they estimated by 2025 there will be 163 zeta bytes of information being processed in some shape or form.

Even today there are varying estimates of exactly how many connected devices there will be in the future, Cisco for example estimates that 12.2 billion devices will be connected by 2020 and Gartner estimated (on a joint webinar with OpenText) there will be around 21 billion connected devices by 2020, so I guess you could ask just how long is piece of string!

OpenText recently completed a digital transformation related study with IDC, (which you can download here), the study looked to see whether new digital transformation projects such as IoT would kick-start new transformation initiatives across the supply chain.

We surveyed 254 companies across seven countries and four different industries and the IoT related responses were certainly interesting as you can see below. I will provide more details on this study at a later date and I will expand on some of the IoT use cases highlighted in the table below in future blog posts relating to how supply chains can leverage an IoT platform.

Question: With specific regard to the internet of things (IoT), and the use of sensors, what type of supply chain processes (or use cases) would provide the most benefit for your organization?

For this particular blog I want to focus on what all these billions of devices will be connected to, from a platform point of view, and what will happen to the zeta bytes of data that will come off these devices. How will enterprise systems be able to leverage this information?, how can it be used to look for trends?, and more importantly how can it be used to streamline supply chain processes? After all, at the end of the day investing in IoT may seem like a step in the dark for many companies but it can provide significant ROI if deployed effectively. More on the benefits and ROI of IoT in a future blog.

I have been following the IoT sector fairly closely over the past 4 years, since I attended an IoT World Forum Conference hosted by Cisco in 2013. However it is only in the last 12 months that IoT conversations have been turning towards establishing IoT platforms and how these can effectively act as the middle layer between the connected devices and business or supply chain process that is being improved or optimized.

Early last year I spent a few hours discussing supply chain focused use cases for IoT with Gartner and how B2B Managed Services could provide the integration requirements to support an IoT enabled supply chain. He understood how our EIM solutions could help enable an IoT platform. This particular conversation led to a webinar last October which looked at the key trends in the IoT sector and what technologies an IoT platform should ideally consist of.

The five key cornerstones, as discussed by Gartner in the webinar, that underpin an IoT platform, consist of device management, information management, analytics, integration and security. In my view, OpenText is in a strong position to support an IoT platform with the various solutions that we have in our EIM portfolio.

OpenText could potentially partner with say, a telco provider for edge connectivity, as other vendors have done, but we can provide web and mobile app development solutions to help remotely login and configure connected devices to partially cover the device management cornerstone.

The table below highlights how the six key components of OpenText’s EIM portfolio could potentially support an IoT platform strategy.

IoT in the Supply Chain

In order for an IoT platform to be able to support supply chain business processes, you need to ensure that all digital information, both structured and unstructured, coming from the trading partner community can be stored in what can best be described as a ‘supply chain data lake’.

OpenText Business Network already has a cloud-based data lake, hosted in our data center, which stores the B2B transactions as they move across our network. This allows companies to analyze these transactions and identify performance trends across the supply chain. For more information on this take a look at our Trading Grid Analytics web page. So let me now explain how a data lake which can accept different types of supply chain information could evolve.

The figure above illustrates my interpretation of what a ‘supply chain data lake’ could look like, it highlights the type of information, both structured and unstructured that could enter the lake, and then it highlights how our EIM solutions could leverage this information in different ways across the business to help drive IoT enabled supply chain processes. Let me just expand on the different sections that make up this diagram.

The first step is to ensure that you can receive information electronically from trading partners across your end-to- end supply chain. This will involve digitally enabling every trading partner, but it is more than this as every connected device, from the vehicles delivering finished goods to customers, down to the pallets carrying the goods will need to be remotely connected to the IoT platform.

This allows a macro level of supply chain visibility to be achieved. Deciding what supply chain assets need to be connected to the IoT platform, what type of information needs to be obtained from the connected device, what B2B transactions need to be accessed and what you actually want to measure will then determine the type of analysis and reporting that can be achieved.

The next step is to drip feed the data into the supply chain data lake. In addition to B2B transactions, and sensor based information, the lake could be populated with many other types of structured and unstructured information. For example, social media or website information relating to the service availability of key 3PL providers and inventory data from every connected asset involved with the movement of goods across an end-to-end supply chain. Multi-media data such as videos highlighting damaged goods from a supplier or perhaps new regulatory data that will impact the compliance reporting of a trading partner community. If all of this information can be placed in a centralized supply chain data lake then it can be acted upon as required by different stakeholders in the business.

The third step leverages the EIM based solutions to analyze and review the information held within the supply chain data lake so that some form of process can be initiated across the supply chain. Consider this section of the diagram as an oil rig (EIM solutions) sitting on top of a valuable seam of oil (data) waiting to be extracted. Each of the EIM solutions has its role to play in processing information from the supply chain data lake, whether using Business Network to transfer information into a back end enterprise system such as ERP or using analytics to identify some form of performance trend that needs to be acted upon.

IoT in the Supply Chain

Finally the IoT platform will be accessed by key stakeholders across the business, users in the procurement, manufacturing and logistics functions for example. They could leverage this information in many different ways but there are some important supply chain related use cases for how a globally accessible and fully integrated IoT platform could optimize supply chain processes.

In the Gartner webinar that I highlighted earlier I discussed how an EIM-based IoT environment could support three supply chain related processes, namely Pervasive Visibility, Proactive Replenishment or Predictive Maintenance. I am going to expand on these three areas in my next blog.

About Mark Morley

Mark Morley
As Director, Strategic Product Marketing for Business Network, Mark leads the product marketing efforts for B2B Managed Services, drives industry and regional alignment with overall Business Network product strategy and looks at how new disruptive technologies will impact future supply chains. Mark also has over 23 years industry experience across the discrete manufacturing sector.

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