How IoT Will Impact The Supply Chain


There has been a lot written about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it will affect nearly every global industry—from retail to connected vehicles. In my opinion, one of the most exciting areas of impact—albeit far less sexy than drones and self-driving cars—is the global supply chain.

When I think of supply chains, I think of the quirky TV show Portlandia. There’s an episode where two friends are dining out and, before ordering, they insist on knowing as much as they can about the very chicken they’ll be eating for dinner. They find out his name, appetite, and social habits. They even travel to the farm where he was raised to make sure it seems like a happy environment. It’s an option made possible due to the restaurant’s firm commitment to farm-to-table transparency. The process of assessing a chicken in real-time before agreeing to eat it may seem a bit outlandish (errr, Portlandish.) But with the IoT, we’ll be able to experience that type of transparency, and so much more.

Indeed, the IoT is set to revolutionize the supply chain with both operational efficiencies and revenue opportunities made possible with just this type of transparency. In today’s market, supply chain isn’t just a way to keep track of your product. It’s a way to gain an edge on your competitors and even build your own brand. The following are a few areas where we’ll be seeing the most advancement and change with the ever-advancing Industrial IoT.

Operational Efficiencies

When it comes to operational efficiencies, the IoT offers many:

Asset Tracking: Tracking numbers and bar codes used to be the standard method for managing goods throughout the supply chain. But with the IoT, those methods are no longer the most expedient. New RFID and GPS sensors can track products “from floor to store”—and I’d venture, even beyond. At any point in time, manufacturers can use these sensors to gain granular data like the temperature at which an item was stored, how long it spent in cargo, and even how long it took to fly off the shelf. The type of data gained from the IoT can help companies get a tighter grip on quality control, on-time deliveries, and product forecasting. Not too shabby.
Vendor Relations: The data obtained through asset tracking is also important because it allows companies to tweak their own production schedules, as well as recognize sub-par vendor relationships that may be costing them money. According to IBM—whose Watson AI technology has become a major resource on the supply chain scene—up to 65% of the value of a company’s products or services is derived from its suppliers. That’s a huge incentive to pay closer attention to how your vendors are handling the supplies they’re sending you, and how they’re handling your product once it’s made. Higher quality goods mean better relationships with customers—and better customer retention overall.
Forecasting and Inventory: Another bonus: IoT sensors can provide far more accurate inventories than humans can manage alone. For instance, Amazon is using WiFi robots to scan QR codes on its products to track and triage its orders. Imagine being able to track your inventory—including the supplies you have in stock for future manufacturing—at the click of a button. You’d never miss a deadline again. And again, all that data can be used to find trends to make manufacturing schedules even more efficient.
Connected Fleets: As the supply chain continues to grow—upward and outward—it’s even more imperative to ensure that all your carriers—be it shipping containers, suppliers’ delivery trucks, or your van out for delivery—are connected. Again, the data is the prize. Just like cities are using this data to get to emergencies quicker or clear up traffic issues, manufacturers are using it to get better products to their customers, faster.
Scheduled Maintenance: Of course, the IoT can also use smart sensors on its manufacturing floors to manage planned and predictive maintenance and prevent down-time that can cost so much.
Revenue Opportunities

The chance to know more—and understand more—about our customers, their buying habits, and the trends associated with them is invaluable. It allows businesses to form tighter connections with customers and, inevitably, market to them in new and better ways. Beyond the use of data for improved efficiencies noted above, for instance, businesses can get creative with supply chain transparency. They can build a reputation of social responsibility by allowing customers to access—and with AR, even see—where their product came from, who made it, and the conditions in which those workers lived. They can see who wore it—whose celebrity hands may have touched it—which countries it may have traversed to reach their homes. Heck, maybe supply chain is sexy after all.

How close are we? That depends. Research shows 70% of retail and manufacturing businesses have already begun to transform their supply chain processes. However, when it comes to supply chain, there is far from a level playing field. For the IoT to be truly effective, all members of one’s global supply chain must be connected. In an age when many companies are just now embracing the concept of mobility, that may take a while. Still, as technologies like blockchain and edge computing continue to take form, there is so much further we can go to make our supply chain even more efficient—and creative—than ever before. Perhaps that’s where the real excitement lies.

Written by Daniel Newman.
Daniel Newman is CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, principal analyst at Futurum and author of Futureproof.
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Reduce wandering risk with…


Every second counts when searching for a wandering resident with cognitive impairment. Resident safety and security systems that use RTLS technology…

Approximately 60% of older adults with dementia will wander. Wandering can occur at any time and can lead to serious injury or death, even inside a protected community or when doors are locked. Even with sundown syndrome reflecting the early stages of dementia, residents can unexpectedly and unpredictably wander, catching caregivers by surprise. Some senior living organizations are addressing this issue by implementing resident safety and security systems that incorporate real-time location system technology.
The RTLS technology within these resident safety and security systems incorporates small tags that are worn on the residents’ wrists. The tags wirelessly communicate with technology installed in the community to provide precise residents’ locations. The system can notify caregivers and display resident location information on all organization work stations in real time.

As senior living organization managers know, every second counts when searching for a wandering resident with cognitive impairment. Resident safety and security systems that use RTLS technology offer immediate community-wide visibility when and where it is needed most.

Resident wandering prevention poses challenges

Many senior living organizations confront the wandering challenge using security cameras. Cameras, however, can detract from residents’ sense of privacy and do not always help caregivers locate residents, especially when they are mobile. If residents slip from the camera’s view, then senior living staff can spend precious time searching.

In addition, for optimal safety, cameras require an attendant to watch the camera monitors around the clock, which may require additional staff and associated costs. Conversely, resident safety and security systems can offer visibility over an entire community, providing 24/7 resident protection.

Organizations also have implemented community-wide “lockdown” policies and procedures to prevent wandering residents from opening doors. These lockdown policies can contribute to a restrictive feeling for all residents and particularly affect those residents who do not require the enhanced monitoring of seniors with cognitive impairment.

Allowing some residents their independence while closely monitoring others can be a delicate balance. Consider the unfortunate incident from earlier this year in Rochester, MN, where an elderly woman wandered out of an assisted living community in the middle of the night and died of hypothermia. This organization, like numerous others around the country, allows residents to come and go as they wish and also had security cameras that captured the resident leaving the facility.

Organizations can avoid similar situations through resident safety and security systems that send real-time alerts to staff members’ mobile devices or computer monitors when certain residents are approaching restricted areas. Unlike cameras, resident safety and security systems with RTLS can display a resident’s identity, so finding and returning the resident to safety is faster and more efficient.

Scalable, flexible technology

Several resident safety and security systems incorporate RTLS technology, but not all the platforms are designed to prevent resident wandering in senior living communities. A few factors to consider:

Location specificity. Look for systems that offer room-level location specificity. Numerous dangerous areas exist inside facilities, such as the kitchen, so being able to pinpoint a resident’s location to a specific room is a safety issue as much as a perimeter security benefit.

Scalable. Seek a scalable platform that can be expanded easily depending on the organization’s needs and as the resident population changes. The technology investment should enhance seniors’ livelihood through an understanding of and adaption to their activities of daily living.

Interoperable. Location data should be displayed in real time through the organization’s other mission-critical applications. The system also should be flexible enough to use multiple types of wireless technology for the tags and infrastructure to communicate location information.

Tamper resistant. If a tag stops communicating with the system or is damaged, then a platform that can generate an alert and log the event would reduce the risk of unauthorized tampering.
Protecting residents and improving quality of life

Documenting alerts and the frequency of wandering events is crucial to help improve resident safety. Some systems can analyze trends among residents, locations in the facility or times of day. New living or care environments with greater direct supervision can be arranged based on the analysis, or new staffing schedules can be implemented if it is determined that wandering occurs during particular times of the day.

Although each senior living organization has its unique array of pain points, finding a better way to protect residents is mandatory across the industry. A resident safety and security system using RLTS technology can help organizations fulfill that duty while also positively influencing residents’ quality of life, recognizing their right to privacy and enhancing their sense of security. This also leads to providing families with the peace of mind that their loved ones are secure and protected.

Communities that are embracing this benefit and leveraging RTLS technology stand out among others, ultimately helping to increase their capacity and residential growth.

Making Healthcare More Hygienic…


The CDC states that one patient out of 25 will acquire at least one hospital-associated infection. Here’s how to drop that stat by 70 percent.

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a serious threat to patients that can lead to extended stays in the hospital, expensive treatments or death. Patients can receive an HAI during a procedure or while using a medical device, yet in many cases these infections are preventable through the act of consistent hygienic handwashing by healthcare professionals. With new Real-Time Location Systems, also known as RTLS, in place at healthcare facilities, the rate of HAIs is declining.

How Patients Contract Common Hospital-Acquired Infections

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) 2009 report, the most common infections acquired through the hospital and not related to patients’ original diagnosis are:

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) at 36 percent
Surgical site infections (SSI) at 20 percent
Bloodstream infections (BSI) at 11 percent
Pneumonia infections at 11 percent

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that most HAIs are due to invasive medical procedures and devices, such as the urinary tract infections acquired through the hospital, as many as 75 percent from using a urinary catheter. This tube is inserted through the urethra and into the bladder to retrieve urine. Prolonged use of the catheter increases the patient’s risk of developing a UTI.

There are other ways a patient can come into contact with a disease or organism in the hospital, including healthcare professionals not demonstrating hygienic practices while working. Although handwashing decreases the spread of disease, many healthcare professionals do not wash as frequently as recommended or wash in the appropriate manner.

When a healthcare professional touches a device, like a catheter bag and immediately touches the patient, a cross-transmission of organisms can result. According to the CDC, hand hygiene adherence rates have averaged at about 40 percent between 1994 and 2000.

As many as 1.7 million patients had at least one HAI in 2002 in the United States. During that same year, HAIs were responsible for 99,000 deaths across the nation. In Europe, the incidence of HAI-related deaths increased to 135,000 per year.

How Big Data Analytics Saves Lives

The CDC states that one patient out of 25 will acquire at least one hospital-associated infection, yet if healthcare professionals take steps to prevent these rates, the rate of HAIs can drop more than 70 percent. Facilities are now taking an innovative approach by using big data analytics through Real Time Location Systems. RTLS can generate reports about visits to hand hygiene stations and missed opportunities.

The electronic monitoring device identifies the healthcare professional using the handwashing station without impeding workflow. The data is then collected and the results produced in a graphical manner to pinpoint patterns and increase handwashing hygiene adherence.

The RTLS was not created to discipline healthcare employees, according to a journal article in International Journal of Health Geographics, but rather to educate the facility about areas, individuals or groups that may require more training or education to prevent the spread of disease and HAIs. When healthcare professionals wash their hands, the electromagnetic field emitter within the RTLS device triggers their badge tags and transmits the action to the system.

Apollo Hospitals, considered Asia’s largest healthcare group, uses RTLS devices to prevent and reduce the incidence of HAIs. By collecting data from the RTLS, the physician can make better decisions regarding treatment, reduce adverse clinical outcomes and prevent secondary infections. With HAI at a minimum level at facilities incorporating RTLS, healthcare costs decrease for the hospitals, insurance, and patients.

The economic impact of HAIs was $6.5 billion in 2004. Hospitals hope that using big data analytics will reduce those annual costs while saving lives.

Bluetooth To Disrupt Manufacturing


We may be about to see the same kind of disruption in the way the location of raw materials, staff, tools, and finished products are tracked in manufacturing…

Back in the early 80s, T-squares were standard issue for all engineering draftsmen. The percentage of such offices using computer aided design (CAD) workstations was a rounding error. It’s not that such tools didn’t exist, but they were too expensive to be widely used. Then the PC arrived. AutoCAD was written and the process of creating and revising engineering drawings was revolutionized.

We may be about to see the same kind of disruption in the way the location of raw materials, staff, tools, and finished products are tracked in manufacturing environments. Very few manufacturers have been able to afford to track where all of those elements are on a real time basis, but that’s changing now.

RFID technology started to chip away at that challenge, but it still involves a lot of scanning to check items in and out of zones. High end manufacturers have started to use Real Time Location Solution (RTLS) technologies like Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) to optimize the production of premium products such as luxury vehicles, constantly tracking the location of tools, staff, materials and finished product. When sophisticated tools can sense the presence of a specific piece of work-in-progress, the configuration of those tools can be automated. This has enabled production lines to run a lot faster, with fewer errors and with a flexible mixture of car models sharing the same line. The cost of UWB RTLS is worth it when your product retails at $80,000.

In what has become a familiar dynamic of commoditization, Bluetooth beacon technology is starting to mature and challenge the UWB offerings. Bluetooth location and proximity services are achieving volume in markets adjacent to manufacturing such as retail. Now Bluetooth beacons threaten to disrupt the trail that has only just been blazed by UWB. The result is making the application of RTLS accessible to a much broader set of manufacturers who make products a lot less expensive than BMWs.

To convey a sense of the reduction in costs, let’s pick on just one element of an UWB RTLS system, the receiver, one of many elements required to track the location of an UWB beacon. This might cost in the order of $2,000 and would need to be wired into a proprietary network of many other UWB components. With Bluetooth the equivalent receiver might list at less than $100 and communicate back to a cloud system via Wi-Fi.

To be fair, a UWB RTLS system can track assets down to sub-meter accuracy and most Bluetooth based systems accuracy ranges from 4-meters down to 1-meter, depending upon the configuration and the vendor. While more accuracy is good, as Clayton Christianson describes in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, disruption occurs when costs are drastically reduced and the quality of the disruptor is “good enough” to drive adoption in certain segments. When that happens, the quality of the cheaper technology improves and the more expensive incumbent gets squeezed into a niche market. This appears to be happening in RTLS. Bluetooth beacon vendors are starting to use more and more sophisticated techniques to get better fidelity from commodity hardware.

Using beacons to precisely locate staff is useful to:

> track possible safety compliance or contamination issues (has Jane/John been trained to deal with certain chemicals or equipment)

> automate the record keeping for FDA food traceability compliance (which worker came into contact with a given batch of product and what tool were they using), and for

> workforce management (automated clocking in and out, optimizing travel and time spent in different parts of the building).

Is this technology ready today? Yes, but…

Most Bluetooth beacon vendors’ product lines have not been designed for manufacturing. Most beacons in retail stores have been static, stuck under shelves for instance. They have been used to trigger proximity services on smartphones or tablets. While that can be valuable, in manufacturing the architecture is inverted. It’s the beacons (attached to people and things) that move around the shop floor. The mobile phones that would track them in a retail environment are replaced by static Bluetooth receivers, or gateways, that triangulate the location of beacons attached to pallets. Out of the hundreds of Bluetooth beacon manufacturers only a handful have reached the stage of producing these receivers or gateways.

So while some beacon vendors are seeing that there is money to be made in manufacturing and are producing the hardware, the next challenge is integrating these systems into the ERP systems that provide the human interface and system of record for the vast amounts of real time data that RTLS can produce.

To use the parlance of Geoffrey Moore and “Crossing the Chasm”, it’s the Innovators and the Early Adopters that are investing in proof of concepts and starting to experiment with pilot projects.

In the same way that Amazon was an early adopter of the web and became a winner applying cloud technologies to challenge brick and mortar retailing, early adopters of RTLS and Bluetooth beacons will be able to apply the full power of cloud services to the manufacturing process. Today no large retailer can afford to ignore the web. It will be interesting to see which companies strive to become the Amazon of manufacturing.