As the ‘Amazon effect’ puts incredible pressure on the supply chain industry, satellite technology commoditises visibility.

Forbes Insights’ analysis of the supply chain industry – Logistics, Supply Chain and Transportation 20203: Change at Breakneck Speed – believes that changes in the supply chain industry are being driven by advancing technology and the so-called ‘Amazon effect’.

The latter is defined by how the customer wants their delivery now, want to know precisely where it is, what’s taking so long and how long it will be until it arrives. In short, the supply chain needs to invest in visibility to increase its market share and customer engagement.

Deborah Fourie, marketing communications manager of Globalstar Africa, believes that this has been one of the most fundamental changes to the supply chain and its potential success.

“If you looked at the supply chain 20 years ago, the customer was happy when their shipment arrived in the correct month, but now they want to be a part of the shipment’s progress 24/7, 365 days a year,” she says. “They want to know the exact dates, times and locations of their assets and their inventory throughout the journey.”

This is one of the many tenets touted by the ongoing conversation around the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and one that Deloitte emphasises in its paper The Supply Chain Control Tower. According to this paper, only 20.7% of manufacturing organisations have rated themselves as highly prepared to address these new business models. The looming digital shadow of 4IR is about to push transformation onto any organisation not paying attention.

Visibility has become a commodity, one that can shape the success of the supply chain in a complex and competitive market. It generates the data and insights required by the industry to collate information, track shipments, identify challenges and refine processes in real-time and on-demand.

“One of the keys to effective supply chain management is the sharing of information throughout the chain,” says Fourie. “This can be achieved through reliable satellite tracking in and out of GSM coverage and through cross-border satellite tracking that can be managed without the limitations of country-specific GSM providers. This is not only more cost-effective, but it allows organisations to expand their footprint into more rural and remote areas.”

The coverage and reach that satellite provides expands visibility into all areas of the supply chain and bypasses many of the complexities that impact on delivery time, efficiency and scope. Satellite adds immense value to building robust supply chain visibility, not least of which is the ability to track inventory while it is in transit.

“Regardless of the country or the location, the ability to track and locate inventory while it is being transported is invaluable,” adds Fourie. “This data can be used to improve customer service through consistent, real-time updates and information into the status of a shipment. The information can be shared with the customer throughout the process, giving them the kind of control and visibility that has become a customer priority. It also increases efficiency – the timings and locations are known, expectations are more clearly managed, and engagement is more dynamic and insightful.”

Sensors built into the inventory can provide information about temperature, speed, battery life, and access. When connected to a satellite network, the information submitted by the sensors can be interpreted as it is transmitted, which allows for improved control over the status of the shipment and how it is managed.

This is very relevant in terms of tampering and crime control as well as in optimising asset space and management for increased revenue. Assets can be actively used and intelligently managed for deeper control and improved supply chain security.

“Security is a major issue in Africa and satellite communications can provide affordable, reliable and accurate tracking of information across borders and beyond the reach of GSM signals,” says Fourie. “This is particularly relevant in light of how globalisation has seen supply chain companies deal with far larger distances alongside increasingly demanding customer expectations. The customer wants it yesterday from even further away.”

Using satellites, sensors, tags, and the capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT), the supply chain opens the window to a world of information and intelligence. Satellite also lets the supply chain invest into the extraordinary potential of IoT at a price point that’s achievable. In fact, a recent ABI Research report – Satellite in IoT: New Satellite Networks for New Wave of IoT Investment – found that satellite technology will enable more than 24 million global IoT connections by 2024.

Its ability to cover the entire surface of the earth means that it can bring connectivity into any region or location.  The recently launched SPOT My Globalstar is a satellite solution designed to provide location-based enterprise-level tracking across multiple locations, devices and operators. It puts all the information on a centralised platform that can track people, vehicles and assets on demand.

“Satellite tracking and monitoring can enter into rural and remote areas, ensure the safety of assets while in transit, provide invaluable information in real-time regardless of location, and deliver essential tracking data to the organisation,” concludes Fourie. “It opens up the realm of IoT to the supply chain and allows for far richer customer engagement. It is a lever for any business to tip over into the possibilities afforded by 4IR and, more importantly, it is cost-effective.”