Consumers have become accustomed to hitting the “buy now” button and having their package delivered straight to their home within a day or two, but few have any idea of the technologies that enable that transaction.
In fact, even some of the companies that sell those items, the companies that ship those items and the companies that process the payments have little idea that edge computing is one of the backbones of this streamlined process.
“What everyone wants to get to as an executive is complete visibility to everything in their network in real time because then they can install business intelligence,” explained Jim Dempsey, director of U.S. business development and partnerships for Panasonic.
Known within the supply chain for its computing solutions like its famous Toughbook tablet, Panasonic (OTC US: PCRFY) also boosts a large Internet of Things and data center business. Dempsey told Modern Shipper that edge computing, or what he prefers to call it, smart edge, is key to connecting all the disparate points of the supply chain to enable that shipper to have tracking and visibility of the shipment.
“Smart edge is where the touch points are happening in the supply chain,” he said. “It allows data to be captured in real time, analyzed in real time and inputted in real time.”
IBM defines edge computing as a “distributed computing framework that brings enterprise applications closer to data sources such as IoT devices or local edge servers.” In other words, it’s computing that takes place at or near the source of the data.
According to a joint Cisco and Gartner report, edge computing is set to explode in the years ahead, with 75% of enterprise-generated data expected to be created outside the traditional centralized data center.
In 2019, Paul Morgan, global sales for manufacturing, automotive and IoT at HP Enterprise, estimated that only 10% of all data was taking place at the edge.
Within the supply chain, though, and more specifically within the last-mile segment of commerce, the need for visibility continues to grow as consumers demand information from their carriers that rivals what Amazon provides.
Dempsey said the ability of enterprises to leverage smart edge computing provides the necessary visibility to make adjustments to delivery schedules, to identify inventory gaps and to assist any number of other business intelligence decisions. Adoption, though, faces a few obstacles.
“The more complex your supply chain, the more difficult it is to make dynamic changes,” he said, adding that most edge deployments today are cloud-based, which does make adoption easier.
Panasonic customers are using smart edge computing to collect data in data warehouses, where it is immediately available for quicker decision making. Some, though, are reluctant.
“There’s that fear of change, that fear of adoption and then you put on the acceleration of change due to the pandemic,” Dempsey said.
In March, Panasonic acquired Blue Yonder. The latter offers supply chain software. Panasonic has been combining Blue Yonder’s technology with its hardware solutions to create more intelligence within the supply chain.
Dempsey pointed to two examples where smart edge computing is helping customers improve efficiencies.
“Forklifts didn’t have any technology on them or they had very old technology that was bolted on with a Windows CE [operating system],” he said, adding that adopting Panasonic rugged tablet technology allows the forklift operator to gain valuable insights and access new datasets. “Then when I go to my modern application, that same tablet can run the newer system on the edge.”
Within warehouse operations, Panasonic is offering a voice-operated platform — Voice Picking Technology — that enables pickers to work more efficiently.
“They can have their eyes up and hands free to make sure they are picking the right thing,” Dempsey said.
Both of these are examples of how edge computing — the ability to collect data from devices at the point where work is being done — are benefiting the supply chain at the warehouse level. That same benefit, though, extends out to the last-mile carriers as well.
“Basically what you are doing is collecting the data along the path [to end delivery],” he said. “That gives me as the consumer all the data to understand [where the package is]. All of that is driven off the scanning or data capture” of the items throughout the logistics network.
Dempsey compared smart edge computing to the introduction of the Android operating system.
“The initial view of Android was it was a consumer operating system because when it started, that’s what it was,” he said. “But it’s the new standard that Google has implemented for businesses. I think that scared a lot of people, but that question — that Android is an enterprise-grade system for business — has been answered by Google.”
The same is now happening to smart edge computing.