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article imageQ&A: How companies can use IoT to enhance operational efficiency Special

By Tim Sandle     May 1, 2019 in Business
To boost efficiencies, companies adopt IoT to enhance operational efficiency and inventory management. One pioneering application of IoT is with the supply chain space, applying nanotechnology. Scott Fletcher of LocatorX explains more.
According to a McKinsey study, IoT stands to save global businesses up to $11 trillion annually by 2025. This technology enables companies to achieve operational efficiency and to simplify inventory management. For many businesses activities, flexible tracking technology, as a prime example, can be applied to these items using IoT technology.
The aim of tracking applications is to bring manufacturers, distributors and the end user closer together with a simple scan, such as by using a smartphone.
There are questions, however, about the reliability of such technology. For example, how secure are these labels in the midst of real-time location tracking and data collection? Should consumers be wary of what personal information is shared when they scan?
An example of a smartphone scanning a QR Code
An example of a smartphone scanning a QR Code
brian suda (CC BY 2.0)
To help address these questions, Digital Journal spoke with Scott Fletcher, CEO and President of LocatorX. As an innovative startup, LocatorX is leveraging nanotechnology to build the foundation of the growing IoT market.
Digital Journal: How important is digital transformation for businesses?
Scott Fletcher: Digital transformation is vital for businesses, especially if they hope to maintain a competitive edge. By implementing state-of-the-art technologies, companies can save time and resources. They can reduce overhead costs in order to lean into areas like human capital and R&D -- areas that are shaping the future of tomorrow’s companies. Investing in next-gen solutions will ultimately give your workforce more time to produce and innovate in a way that outpaces the market.
DJ: What challenges are businesses facing in the supply chain space?
Fletcher: We’ve seen a lack of easy-to implement standards for interoperability or information sharing between trading partners. Right now, there is only one globally accepted standard for products -- the ubiquitous Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), better known as the “barcode.” Because of this, one of the biggest challenges that businesses in the supply chain space are facing is the prevalence of counterfeit goods. Manufacturers are outsourcing the production of goods, labels, and packaging, so it is easy for a contractor to employ a second or third shift to produce inauthentic goods using cheaper materials.
To make matters worse, right now, there is no definitive way to ensure that retailers and consumers are dealing with authentic goods. Consumers have no idea how widespread this issue is, so they continue to buy counterfeit goods under the assumption that they’re purchasing the real deal.
This issue is exacerbated as counterfeiters continue to profit and produce. Meanwhile, brand reputations suffer at the hands of customers who express their dissatisfaction with the fake goods.
Frighteningly enough, these goods look legitimate to customs officials, too. While there is no hard evidence, customs probably only catches 1% of counterfeit goods coming from off-shore. This generally occurs when there is an obvious mistake, such as a misspelled brand name. With no tools to certify authenticity, there is nothing that customs can really do to reduce this criminal activity. The onus is on manufacturers to combat the issue from their end.
If manufacturers add certified QR codes or IoT-enabled tracking devices to their products, they can track their assets throughout the supply chain and ensure customers are buying authentic goods.
DJ: How can IoT help businesses to become more efficient?
Fletcher:Adding an IoT device with an embedded sensor allows businesses to add smarts to an item in order to increase efficiency. These sensors allow businesses to check on an asset's condition, whether it is in the warehouse or the delivery truck. For example, if the storage temperature is too high, that IoT sensor will activate and send an alert so that employees can act immediately and remedy the issue.
With IoT-enabled nanotechnology, you can track anything anywhere with great precision. Businesses used to be limited by expensive RFP and GPS technologies. Now, products with IoT sensors can communicate using cell towers, which cover the majority of inhabited areas across the globe. A business can now put this nanotechnology on a can of soup and enjoy the same benefits as GPS, but now it’s more cost-effective than ever before.
DJ: Which IoT technologies are the most promising?
Fletcher:The QR code! Both Apple and Android support instantaneous camera scanning of QR codes that point to a web page. Thus, any smartphone can instantly scan any product that has a QR code printed on it. The phone’s browser will then be directed to a webpage where the customer can instantly gather more information about that particular product. Any product can become an “Internet of Things” product by simply adding a QR code. These codes can be printed on any mass-produced product at no additional cost. LocatorX builds Certified QR codes to protect the integrity of product information.
DJ: What are the main challenges around implementing IoT systems?
Fletcher:Most Internet of Things implementations are overly ambitious in their features and functions, and thus, never get implemented. The best solution is to start small. Start communicating with or tracking an asset with a low-cost solution that meets 80% of your needs at 20% of the cost of a fully functional system. There are plenty of other external factors that limit your ability to achieve 100% of your functionality, so start with a solution that helps you implement and learn.
DJ: What are the main cybersecurity risks?
Fletcher:When it comes to data collection and tracking, cybersecurity is a major risk. We’ve seen plenty of tech companies find themselves completely unprepared for attacks and breaches.
Right now, there is only one proven mechanism to limit risks and prevent hacking: the public-private key exchange. A certificate authority helps prove to users that websites aren’t fake, and their browser can protect them. By using these two resources to develop a security framework, large companies can deploy robust systems and enable a smooth and trustworthy transaction of data flow.
LocatorX is using smart label technology in a way that allows companies to maintain ownership and accountability over their data.
DJ: What are smart labels? How can these help to secure the supply chain?
Fletcher:Smart Labels are Certified QR Codes, which are also known as 2D barcodes. Through the use of Product Certificate Authority, these labels can securely track and share data using a globally trusted site as a gateway.
Someone can scan a barcode with a smartphone, and his or her mobile browser will flag that the site that pops up is secure. That site becomes a central hub for safely tracking assets and sharing relevant product and user data.
When your phone is talking to the internet, you need to know it’s not picking up malware from devices out there through product labels. Thanks to this solution, manufacturers are maintaining their own data, so consumers can trust their credibility when a barcode scan activates that IoT environment on their behalf.
DJ: How did you develop your smart tag technology?
Fletcher:Founder Billy Meadow was looking for patents to secure when he discovered the technology behind our accurate tracking solutions. After coming across the solid-state miniature atomic clock under development at the University of Oxford and securing the patent, Billy began to flesh out different use cases. Because it is a man-made molecule, there is really only one way to create the atomic clock. This creates a harder barrier of entry for competitors if they want to do something similar, because they simply cannot replicate the molecule.
Billy knew that the technology alone would serve as a major differentiator between LocatorX and potential competitors. It continues to help businesses streamline supply chain operations and logistics through its accurate, real-time asset tracking capabilities.
More about Inventory Management, internet of things, operational efficiency
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