Deutsche Telekom M2M Real Time Cargo Monitoring Segment 4459When we talk about having visibility into the supply chain, most of us think about being able to track the data about what orders are in what process of being delivered to their destination. When products are on the shelf, even though they may not yet be in the hands of the consumer, they have been delivered to the retailer, so the responsibility of delivering the product has been completed. But there are situations where the liability remains with someone other than the retailer, and it's possible to monitor the transport at a more granular level in some cases.

The use of RFID tags is expanding so that it's now possible to track item level shipments from the point the tags are attached to the final sale. These systems for monitoring contribute to the mountains of data that is filling data repositories and subsequently mined for insights. Some of the responses can be near real time, but during the periods when the products are in transit there is little interaction with RFID readers. That's where advanced sensors are beginning to appear.

In case you haven't noticed, sensors of many kinds are everywhere. The most common collection of sensors is the smart phone you're carrying. Sensors in these devices record and react to light, motion, direction, sound, shock, and other aspects of their environment. As Jurgen Hase reported in InnovationInsights, sensors are being enlisted to monitor products during transport. As he explains: 

"Inexpensive, sophisticated sensor technology can now do more than just pinpoint the vehicle’s position; it can also check other parameters such as tire pressure or fuel consumption. This enables the logistics manager to plan maintenance and repair schedules in greater detail. Sensors can also monitor cargoes during transportation. Deep-frozen pizza must by law be transported at -18 degrees Celsius. In the past, the recipient only noticed in the warehouse when the refrigeration chain had been uninterrupted. By then it is often too late for alternatives."

The output from these sensors need to be incorporated into the streams of information coming from all the other aspects of the supply process. Not only that, these indicators require more proactive monitoring - even real-time oversight to make the most of their output.

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