As consumer preferences and expectations evolve over the years, supply chain processes are compelled to run alongside - cue, the meteoric rise in importance of the last-mile logistics vertical. Since the boom of ecommerce, delivery times have gotten tighter, with options like next-day and same-day delivery an anticipated reality - a situation unforeseeable a decade back.
“Last-mile delivery has gotten a lot more digitalized now. When there is a promise of same-day delivery, the interaction between different parties - from the ecommerce side that receives the customer order to the goods provider to the warehouse and finally the last-mile delivery driver - there are many parties involved and these events are distributed in real time,” said Ricardo Gomez-Ulmke, VP of IoT at Solace.
The incredibly short delivery spans mean that businesses cannot afford to process products in batches anymore, thus leading to the need for visibility and traceability in the supply chain. “We need to tightly monitor the entire chain to enable fast delivery times. In particular when something goes astray, maybe when there is heavy traffic, you would want to involve the customer and tell them that the delivery is going to be at the door in 20 minutes, so there is no waiting time associated,” said Gomez-Ulmke.
Solace is now working with Daimler on a connected cars project, that would potentially let the latter to monitor the location of their cars real-time. What makes this interesting is that such a system would require an event fabric that is globally distributed, as Daimler sells its vehicles across Europe, North America, and Asia.
“Coming back to the parcel delivery, you can use this feature to send remote commands to each individual cars if you wish - simple commands like “open door” or “open trunk.” So through a mobile application, if you have the access rights, you can open the trunk of a Mercedes,” said Gomez-Ulmke. “Tying that to delivery, this means that if you order something on Amazon, and you won’t be home to receive it, the parcel can be delivered to the trunk of your car.”
This could be a breakthrough in parcel delivery, as consumers are not necessitated to be present to receive products. Nonetheless, this seemingly easy solution has a lot to balance - tracking the location of the car and the driver in real-time, understanding where both are with relation to each other, and giving access to commands of opening up the trunk at a specific time - a federation of events that need to run tight.
Gomez-Ulmke contended that it is crucial for different stakeholders in the ecosystem to work together, as a single party can not moderate the supply chain. “What they have to do is work very closely together via APIs, which need to be real-time in order to facilitate these new business processes,” he said.
And to create visibility, IoT could come in handy. The devices could be stuck to containers, and the product journey from the warehouse to the customer’s door can be monitored real-time. “With a lot of our customers and partners, it is not just about where the package is at any point in time, but also about monitoring the quality of the supply chain,” said Gomez-Ulmke.
“Let us take the example of goods that require certain conditions during transport - be it medicines, chemicals, food or even food ingredients. We would need to know not just its location, but also the temperature, light exposure, and humidity. So if a medicine has a requirement to be between 10 to 12 degrees (celsius), then we have to monitor the temperature at every point in the supply chain.”
This helps with precise monitoring and in identifying who the custodian is at focal points along the supply chain. Full quality monitoring would allow businesses to be cognizant of issues with shipment damage, even before the product delivery is due.
For instance, if a food processing factory needs 10 ingredients to create an end product, and if it can deduce from monitoring its supply chain that one of the ingredients’ crate was spoilt due to an overt exposure to sunlight, it can start looking for an alternate supplier before the spoilt ingredient is received at its location. This would lead to a more seamless and optimized supply chain, with real-time data across different networks allowing businesses to be well prepared for logistics adversities.
Gomez-Ulmke spoke about how the farm-to-fork concept is now increasingly relevant, and that blockchain could be the answer to unifying data and maintaining a neutral stronghold over it. “When we talk with our partners about creating a system that is encompassing all the other partners that we have, they always say that they don’t work with one customer, but with hundreds of them,” he said.
“In the end, people say that they need to integrate with a hundred of my customer systems, but I also am a customer to many different suppliers, making integration a huge task. What we need is a neutral party, potentially based on blockchain where everybody can integrate - so that the integration point is easier.”