Essential tool or science fiction nightmare?

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The internet has already been responsible for more than one revolution in the way we live and work. The arrival of email was a massive change. And of course, the growth of the world wide web has changed the way many people shop and socialise.

But the growth of the “internet of things” promises to be every bit as important as these two.

And it could have a massive impact on how the supply chain operates. That, at least, is the contention of a new report from Gartner: “Digital Marketing, Internet of Things and 3D Printing Are Digital-Business-Driven Disruptions for Supply Chains.”

The internet of things is the term used to describe the growing network of physical devices that are internet connected. Gartner reckons that the number of such devices will increase from 900 million in 2009 to 26 billion in 2020.

Michael Burkett, managing vice president at Gartner, says: “Some IoT devices are more mature, such as commercial telematics now used in trucking fleets to improve logistics efficiency. Some, such as smart fabrics that use sensors within clothing and industrial fabrics to monitor human health or manufacturing processes, are just emerging.”

And as these capabilities become mainstream they will allow modern supply chains to deliver more differentiated service to customers more efficiently.  More and more physical assets can communicate their state to a networked ecosystem, which can then formulate an intelligent response.

The notion of networks of machines making their own decisions used to be the stuff of science fiction – how many films have there been in which the lantern-jawed hero saves the world from rule by machine?

However, the reality of this revolution is altogether more prosaic. What is clear is that the internet of things is going to become an increasingly important part of the supply chain over the coming years – understanding how to make the most of this resource will be essential for supply chain professionals.

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