Supply chain connectivity – you can’t drive a Ferrari without fuel

The acceleration of supply chain transformation

The transformation of the supply chain only seems to be accelerating. As businesses strive to find the most efficient ways to deliver goods to their customers, new operating models are emerging involving many more stakeholders and transportation modes. Retail is evolving to facilitate multiple channels in which consumers can purchase goods which in-turn, drives the complexity of supply chain networks.

Further compounding the need for transformation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fragilities in global networks, and operators are nervous about the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union.

With this added complexity, business leaders are turning to technology to provide solutions, enabling greater visibility, control, and predictability to ensure they are well equipped to handle the changing demands of modern-day supply chains. Whilst there have been success stories within factories and in warehouses, gaps remain regarding visibility of goods moving between stakeholders and between physical sites, and these areas are now taking centre stage.

Technologies such as Blockchain are being deployed to improve data integrity. Advanced analytics and Artificial Intelligence platforms enable the prediction and prevention of issues that may arise as goods move between stakeholders. And data present is abundant within the supply chain due to the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Studies indicate over 90% of HGV’s are now fitted with a GPS tracking device.

Whilst the technologies mentioned have the potential to dramatically disrupt supply chains of the future, they require ‘content’. Ultimately, they need access to high-quality data from within the supply chains to deliver real value. Access to the abundance of data, in the right formats, at the right time, remains a challenge.

Capturing content is challenging

Data capture is not an unknown requirement or challenge. We are all too familiar with data being used to fuel technology platforms to sell or influence.

But the supply chain presents unique challenges when obtaining such insight, especially within the areas of focus such as when goods are in-transit, moving between sites and/or stakeholders. There are so many different sources of data present within supply chains and unlike in other areas, these data sources are seldom consolidated.

The term often given to the function of capturing data from within the supply chain is connectivity. Technologies such as those mentioned above need connectivity to the myriad of data sources present within the supply chain. Not only do they need access to the data itself, but given the disparity between systems, to deliver valuable outputs, they need a way of extracting contextualised data packets such as: these goods, on this vehicle, are located here. This ultimately means that synchronisation on top of connectivity is required.

Yet the connectivity function gets far less attention than perhaps a Blockchain or AI.

Unlocking connectivity is key to the success of the next-generation technologies and the next generation of the supply chain. Whilst it’s so easy for focus and admiration being drawn to the more ‘sexy’ tech, ultimately you can’t drive a Ferrari without fuel.

Connectivity is simple though, right?

The data points required to enable monitoring of goods-in-transit could be a simple as: the inventory, the vehicle that the inventory is on, and the location of that vehicle.

That doesn’t sound too difficult right?

Too often, connectivity is seen as straight forward and is almost dismissed out of hand. However, the challenges are significant and require specialist attention.

Lack of connectivity within the supply chain is one of the key reasons that many deployments of next-generation technologies stumble at the first hurdle and do not make it past the proof of concept phase.

Challenges in achieving supply chain connectivity

Let’s start with capturing the inventory and scheduling data (where you would obtain vehicle allocation). There are countless Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Transport Management System (TMS) systems. Although likely cloud-based, these systems are seldom interoperable.

Then you have the IoT element. Connecting to a single tracker from a single vendor may be fairly straight forward, but there are hundreds of sensor vendors and therefore, many different sensors in operation across supply chains.

Different sensors may have slightly different data formats. They may have a different order of fields within the communicated data packets. Different sensors may communicate at different frequencies. They could use a variety of communication technologies – some wide area, some through local gateways. Etc. etc. etc.

And then, of course, all data inputs need to be brought together in a way that provides context and meaning.

Whilst connecting to single systems may not be too daunting, the modern supply chain has multiple vendors, suppliers, logistics companies, etc. in a single chain meaning a likelihood that many systems will require connectivity and synchronisation.

Connectivity is the key to unlocking the next phase of supply chain transformation. Without it, areas of the supply chain will remain dark.

Given the complexities surrounding connectivity, specialist platforms exist to support businesses and technology providers to achieve connectivity. They sit between the supply chain and other systems wanting content, capturing data from the ‘undergrowth’, synchronising the data to deliver valuable output with added context and pass these on to facilitate interoperability between systems and a valuable source of data upstream to fuel the ‘sexier’ technologies.

The connectivity layer builds on the ‘data lake’ of old, enabling predictable, secure and digestible sources of data or ‘content’, preventing other technology providers or system managers from spending huge amounts of time capturing data or even re-writing their applications to accommodate each data source.

What makes a good supply chain connectivity partner?

A supply chain connectivity provider needs to:

  1. Connect and make available data from within the supply chain
  2. Deliver contextualised data and events through synchronisation of data sources
  3. Remove noise, only delivering data of value/interest

Looking specifically at the challenge of obtaining valuable insight of goods moving between stakeholders, specialist platforms are required. More generic platforms may offer tools to capture and visualise data but the additional context and synchronisation aspects are critical and require purpose-built platforms to deliver this. After all, capturing location data without additional context is pointless.

For example, the Entopy platform has been purpose-built for this function. It uses data captured from IoT devices, contextualised with the vehicle of asset that is being tracked, to create ‘virtual inventory environments’ which can then be populated with inventory data or documentation. The use of analytics and geo-fences enables the capture of supply chain events. So rather than raw data capture, Entopy provides: these goods, on this vehicle, have just arrived at this location.

Having a specialist platform is the first part. But the connections still have to be made. The role of connectivity provision extends beyond more generalist system integrators. The complexities outlined above require specialist personnel to deliver the connections.

Entopy’s approach is to offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ for connectivity. Entopy’s engineers work to connect the target systems to the Entopy platform (which of course is accelerated because the platform has the flexibility required built-in). This removes the headache of gaining connectivity, allowing the focus of Entopy’s partners to remain where it’s most effective.

What makes Entopy a good connectivity partner?

Entopy started life as a hardware business, developing IoT sensors designed to track and monitor goods within supply chain networks. The evolution of the platform has seen it ‘open up’ enabling the connection and synchronisation of disparate data sources. Whilst we have all but done away with the hardware element (largely due to the abundance of IoT sensors available and present within the supply chain), that experience has stood us in good stead.

Naturally, the team have developed a deep understanding of how these devices work, the potential pitfalls that may come up, and the potential variety between different sensors.

This expertise has been baked into the platform, building in necessary flexibility to accommodate a variety of data sources. The extensive API suite is truly open and has unique features that have been developed based on our learnings from working with our own hardware through the development process.

The platform’s architecture has been purpose build for the function of gaining insights through data collection within supply chain networks. Over many years, the architecture and supporting algorithms have been refined to ensure robustness. This focused functionality allows seamless synchronisation between very different data sources, for example, tracking and inventory data.

But the ‘one-stop’ shop approach that Entopy has developed means that for those looking to gain greater connectivity, maybe to fuel a technology platform or to drive interoperability and automation between systems and processes, Entopy is a simple way to overcome a highly complex challenge.

Learn more at: