Supply chain professionals have faced tough challenges over the past three years. Never-before-seen circumstances and unprecedented events have had a major impact on the supply chain putting additional pressures on logistics professionals who need to constantly track their assets.

These assets could include finished goods, components, or any other valuable assets for the business. However, the central challenge lies in how to effectively track them. And the confluence of world events has forced supply chain professionals to reevaluate their asset tracking methods.

Regardless of the industry, implementing technologies and software can help you better address these recent challenges and help you reach your visibility goals. The integration of multiple technologies, including analytical software, can allow for better planning to deal with any uncertainties that arise. Solving this problem provides peace of mind for supply chain professionals and allows businesses to run more smoothly.

Why Challenges Persist

World events such as the 2021 ice storm in Texas, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the shortage of dock workers on the West Coast slowed the flow of materials across industries. The shortage of raw materials and finished products disrupted manufacturing, and a crippling labor shortage has made it much more difficult to predict the flow of materials/inventory through the supply chain.

When these challenges combined to constrict supply chains, many companies were underprepared to cope with them. As a result, the usual flow of goods across countries nearly ground to a halt and made fulfilling industrial orders more difficult than at any time in recent memory.

If companies had proactively planned and invested in methods of tracking raw materials, finished goods and other assets, they could have been better prepared for material shortages and shipment planning. This would have allowed them to adjust accordingly and minimize the potential impact caused by the pressures exerted on the supply chain.

How D2C and B2B Distributors Are Adapting to These New Conditions

The first instinct for many distributors, whether they operate in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) or business-to-business (B2B) sector, is to treat the current disruptions like they were traditional problems that, with enough time and patience, will work themselves out.

Unfortunately, the problems this time around were and are more intractable than in past supply chain crises. The labor shortage shows few signs of easing anytime soon, and it is still difficult to get materials in certain industries because of continuing problems. It appears these pain points are going to exist for the foreseeable future.

Since the labor shortage has created a situation where fewer human auditors are available, those capabilities are more often being provided through technology paired with robust auditing software. The most progressive companies are enhancing their audit capabilities to understand what’s happening operationally on a day-to-day basis by deciding what data is most important to their success.

Once you have identified the most important data points, it’s important to be able to create systems that allow you to see them in easily digestible formats. Proper analysis of the data is what allows companies to be more proactive so they can avoid unnecessary supply chain disruptions.

How to Implement a Technology Solution to Minimize Disruption

The first step to implementing a successful supply chain visibility solution is to look at how the system will be governed. Everyone must be on board, from the operations managers all the way up to the C-suite.

Once the buy-in has occurred, it’s a matter of implementing the right Internet of Things (IoT) protocols. Choosing which asset tags, such as RFID, ultrawideband or GPS, make the most sense for your business and how the tracking system will integrate into your broader operational software are key. Training your employees on how to use the tools is crucial to gain momentum for system adoption.

Everyone who will be involved in tracking assets must understand why the system put in place is critical to the company’s operational success. Though the risks of moving to an IoT solution are minimal, poorly trained employees who provide inaccurate data, or missing data, are the most common challenge involved. If the governance and training processes are thorough and everyone understands how the IoT system should function within the business, the likelihood of adoption is gained and the prospect for success is outstanding.

How to Stay Ahead of the Curve

Collecting and analyzing stats with the goal of integrating actionable data into your day-to-day operations are key to staying ahead of the curve. IoT technology will continue to evolve and become more efficient, but having a baseline of the data you need to collect to achieve your goals is crucial.

To keep your data needs current, conduct regular business reviews to identify the information you currently need and anticipate what data you will need as your business evolves. Aim to envision the factory of the future and ensure that the technology you choose to implement is scalable enough to accommodate future growth.

Getting a Handle on Your Most Important Data

As technology advances, the amount of information available to your company will exponentially increase. Therefore, it’s crucial to have strategies in place to prepare for this growth. Developing a systematic approach to differentiate and comprehend data is vital for effective interpretation and long-term planning for your business.

As machine learning and artificial intelligence are integrated into the supply chain infrastructure, the ability to pinpoint and interpret your data will help your business thrive. Finding a partner who can help you create accurate data and synthesize multiple data streams will help you identify the most important data to your business. This pursuit of data insight is essential and can help you in making your business more resilient as new and existing supply chain challenges appear on the horizon.

Rusty Coleman is the VP of Digital Transformation for Surgere, an industry pioneer leveraging IoT technology to revolutionize the supply chain. Rusty has been with Surgere since 2018 and has deep expertise in supply chain and operations management. Previously, he was the North American director of materials at Electrolux where he managed the supply chain and the organizations digital transformation efforts.