A Smart Supply Chain Starts With Smart People

Internet of Things technologies, on their own, will do nothing for the supply chain. But well-trained supply chain professionals could do quite a lot of good with IoT technologies.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

All this being said, Eshkenazi is bullish on the positive impacts that the IoT and big data could have on supply chain and logistics providers. For example, by improving traceability, IoT technologies—including RFID—can help supply chain partners by providing chain-of-custody authentication mechanisms to manage requirements around the avoidance of child labor and conflict minerals. (The term "conflict minerals" refers to certain materials, including cassiterite, columbite-tantalite, gold and wolframite, mined in central Africa and used to make electronics components. These minerals are being extracted and trafficked by armed groups that subject workers to human-rights abuses and use the proceeds from the sale of conflict minerals to finance violent operations.)

In addition, consumers whose purchasing habits are guided by products' environmental or social impacts are increasingly demanding access to information related to how products are manufactured (and with what source materials), as well as how or whether these products can be repurposed, de-manufactured or recycled at the end of their useful lives. To address those sustainability concerns, some firms are working to create what they call a circular economy (for more on that, check out this Expert View article).

A circular economy—in which materials are managed and tracked from their source and through the end of a product's life (and then back to become source materials again)—will require that supply chain partners become quite savvy with all sorts of advanced tracking technologies. In other words, supply chain companies will need to become significant users of IoT technology.

So now is the time for APICS and other industry groups to rise to the challenges regarding education and training that, Eshkenazi says, are so vital right now. A big part of APICS' efforts in advancing training programs, he explains, is by starting with young students and getting the term "supply chain" into their lexicon.

"We're starting to move into K-12 school systems, to talk about supply chain," Eshkenazi says. "We're starting to ask kindergarteners to think about a lemonade stand—as in, 'How many lemons do you need? And what should you charge for them?'"

I think that's also a good way to teach young kids about the circular economy. So supply chain and logistics companies, as well as marketers, retailers and manufacturers, should take note: The age of the conscious consumer is dawning, and your future stakeholders will want to see how the lemonade is made. IoT technologies can help you show them.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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