The topic of Big Data is getting a lot of attention, and rightly so. In the supply chain, it gives us the chance to create context around real-world objects and events to better understand the business and act upon these insights in time. When myself and my colleagues at Nexxiot set out to transform the cargo transport space, Big Data had already become a commonly used buzzword, but not much more than that. Enterprise IoT can be used to optimize asset utilization and also to create new cargo related services. We came to the realization that huge volumes of data needs to be gathered, processed and interpreted to extract this value.
In the early days, the first question clients asked was, “Who owns the data?” When it was established that they as asset owners can own the data, because they have the sole right to equip the asset with sensor hardware, a new question was often triggered. “How can we trust the data?”
Both questions are very relevant and should be comprehensively addressed to ensure rapid adoption can take place. Data is not like a conventional commodity. There is raw unprocessed data, processed data, and data that has been combined with other Big Data to create further context and value.
Nexxiot enables the monitoring of mobile assets such as railcars, tank and intermodal containers, as well as the cargo they carry. This is done using its own zero-maintenance devices, software and analytics, and then the data is processed in our own intelligent IoT cloud. The technology is a fully integrated solution and supports an open, interoperable ecosystem. This allows clients to optimize operations to reduce costs and also sell digital cargo services to the shippers and cargo owners they serve.
Get the data flowing
Strategies around Big Data, which include simulation models like Digital Twins, machine learning and using algorithms to create value, are visionary by nature. In traditional industries like the supply chain business, the perceived gap can be quite large. The question is often, “Why do we need this? It’s always been this way.” But the fact remains, sensors and connectivity pave the way for automation and predictive models to replace outdated working methods and processes.
With IoT, data driven businesses can redefine their stakeholder groups and extract revenues from their asset fleets that were previously inaccessible. With so many new opportunities and no set precedent, business leaders are under pressure to decide where to put their efforts and decide where to start and what to expect. With Big Data it might sound obvious, but ‘you don’t know what you don’t (yet) know’. By this I mean, until the data starts flowing, it is difficult to predict where the best opportunities lie. The process is iterative and interdisciplinary by nature.
We are all in this digital transformation together
In order to select the right focal point for our efforts, we can benefit from our network and from redefining partnerships around the collective interests. If we move away from a mindset of ‘my asset – my data’ to ‘my ecosystem – our processes’ we create all kinds of new opportunities. Nexxiot has been promoting ideas like ‘Co-opetition,’ a portmanteau of cooperation and competition, in the supply chain industry for several years already. A new focus on the ‘global value network’ and the ‘end-user / customer experience’ is vital to make this transition real.
The traditional model for logistics was to think in terms of ‘chains’ of participants and value contribution. This is already outdated. We see that multi-site, multi-entity actors all across the globe result in large complex networks of value contribution and accountability. Domain experts hold lots of knowledge on the practical realities behind our business processes. A data driven culture must integrate this expertise along with new technology to collect and make sense of the data. The reference architecture must also be clearly defined. The digitization process integrates all the essential elements from sensor to connectivity to dashboard, in order to create enough context for process enhancement to take place.
Culturally, a change management mindset is needed to align interests and goals from all areas of the business, and this must include all relevant stakeholder groups as well. With communication channels between data scientists and domain experts live, gone is the siloed thinking of the past. Instead, a new era of collaboration and sharing is brought in.
One of the experts I know from the rail sector put an interesting comment across in a panel discussion I recently chaired. He said, “Information is easy to put out there, but hard to find”. We noticed this early and so built our solutions to take account of this.
Strengthening the weakest link in the chain
As a result of these learnings, we support quality standards in our practices from hardware to platform. We support the cultural requirements our clients face to align objectives and value extraction. We enable technical decision making through a consultative approach and drive common sense regulations to make the transition to new ways of working possible.
Data lakes are useful repositories for sharing and the communication between supply chain participants, national interests, member organizations and standards committees are supported by leading vendors to ensure the path is clear.
In the end, we see it as Nexxiot’s responsibility to honor firm commitments to clients on data security, ownership and trust. Many of our customers have come to see the benefits of sharing some data and ideas. These can be based around business rules, knowledge, algorithms, analysis techniques, machine learning training sets and reference models.
Many supply chain participants are understanding they operate in a post-globalized world, with complexity and unknowns inherent in daily operations. If we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, then we better look beyond our own operations to consider ways to strengthen our business processes and those of our partners too. In doing so, we ensure the ecosystem evolves in a way that offers greater value for the benefit of everyone involved.
About Daniel MacGregor
Founder of Nexxiot who created and built a multi-million-dollar, digital supply-chain technology company from scratch. With a clear focus on digitizing mobile assets like rail freight wagons and intermodal containers the company creates services for smoother operations across the globe. It provides an integrated solution including hardware, software and analytics and is a leading voice in the definition of standards and cutting-edge applications. From information distribution to business-process innovation, Nexxiot clients deploy these technologies to differentiate their services and monetize new digital insights. The Nexxiot leadership team is headed by CEO Stefan Kalmund and CFO Philipp Spögler who are expanding the business globally and managing the evolution of the rapidly growing scale-up to address more opportunities across the digital cargo transport and supply chain space.