Global supply chains are struggling. The IoT could help

Businesses are stepping up their use of Internet of Things technologies to help them make supply chains more effective.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

With the holiday season approaching, businesses across the world are still trying to resolve supply chain problems that have been repeating since the pandemic began in 2020. Can the internet-connected sensors and low-powered edge computers of the Internet of Things solve the problem

Supply chain issues have affected businesses in all sectors, from car rental businesses hamstrung by the auto-industry's year-long semiconductor shortfall, to the humble bike shop because some components aren't being produced in volumes that they were before.

British satellite telco Inmarsat outlines multifaceted challenges that businesses face today, from population growth to spikes in consumer demand, a shortage of resources at the right time, efforts to reduce carbon output, and a new focus on safety after the pandemic. 

"Now organisations are choosing to work with likeminded businesses, to collaborate and share data, to optimise operations and to show consumers provenance and their commitment to end-to-end sustainability and ethical business," Inmarsat says in a new report about IoT

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Inmarsat was taken private in 2019 and earlier this year hired former Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri to lead its investments in new satellites, including about 150 low-Earth orbit ones to take on Elon Musk's Starlink constellation, but with a greater focus on 5G enterprise and government customer deployments.  

Of course, Inmarsat is playing up the importance of its role as a satellite communications provider that works to provide digital supply chains in agriculture, transport, oil and gas production, military, fuel distribution, energy, smart cities and mining. It argues the IoT has a role to play in enabling the management of this intricate web of production, distribution and delivery – with organisations increasingly adopting the technology in recent years.

To address supply chain constraints, the company says businesses are creating "digital twins" of their supply chains, so that each stage is recreated in digital form.

Failing to undergo a digital transformation in this way will leave businesses exposed to new threats to supply chain stability, according to the company. 

Its survey found that 77% of respondents had fully deployed at least one IoT project – up from just 21% in its 2018 survey. It reckons the pandemic accelerated IoT projects due to remote monitoring and control capabilities. Of the other 23%, all are either currently trialling it, or plan to deploy or trial at least one IoT project in the next 18 months.

Some 50% relied on Wi-Fi for their IoT project, followed by satellite at 47%, while radio accounted for 44%, and public LTE networks made up 36%. Other commonly used technologies below 30% included fibre, private LTE, Bluetooth, and wide area networks.  

"Satellite ranked as the most prominently used long-range technology, while Wi-Fi is most common from a short-range perspective, reflecting Wi-Fi's low-cost point and flexibility of data type, versus more specialised edge connectivity types," it notes.  

"The combination of different connectivity types suggests a more mature approach to IoT – so long as they are being used efficiently – with the average number of connectivity types used across an organisation being three."

The most important concern for customers was network reliability, followed by security and network coverage. 

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Security turned up as a significant issue for data handling and data sharing with 80% sharing data only with their organization. Inmarsat expects customers to increasingly share data with external organizations, such as suppliers, despite privacy and security challenges.   

Skills shortages are another problems for building intelligence out of data collected by IoT devices. 

Inmarsat found that analytical and data science skills were sought after by 48% of respondents, while connectivity technology skills were wanted by 46%. 

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