The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is something Google intends to be right at the centre of. The search engine to technology giant announced in May 2015 that it is developing Google Brillo – an operating system designed to run on and connect devices in our homes. IoT is essentially where all our devices are connected to the internet – providing ‘swarm intelligence’ from previously non-intelligent ‘things’. Here we look at the development of the IoT, what it is and what it means for us as consumers, and the implications for the retail and logistics industry.

Tech savvy consumers will already be embracing new developments with IoT at home. Nest, allows you to control your heating remotely (incidentally, now also owned by Google), while Phillips’ Hue light bulbs turn off when you leave your house, switch on when you return and can be controlled remotely from a mobile. And there are many more applications already in use, such as helping us to remember to take our medicine, tracking lost keys, lighting streets effectively and keeping our towns clean with smart bins. New cars can now contact a garage when a service is due to prompt forgetful owners. Industries are also using this technology to great effect. Rolls Royce, for example, remote monitor their jet engines. This means that performance and vital maintenance data can be accessed from the other side of the world. The cliché of your fridge being able to order new milk when you run out is closer than we think!

Allport Cargo Services is following the development of technology in this area with great interest, because we believe it will have a major impact on the supply chain. Clyde Buntrock, Group Marketing & Business Development Director explains: “Our LIMA connect technology already enables the supply chain through cloud-based solutions that allow our clients to interface with multiple parties. However, in a great many cases this still ultimately requires some form of human intervention. Even ‘automated’ carrier messages are all too often originated through human key strokes at the carrier end, and whilst the message is electronic, it is still subject to human error”

However IoT is certainly not merely tracking: “The opportunities are boundless – GPS has been around for years. Logistics is about moving products around and logistics companies provide the method and data associated with moving and storing products. Where IoT will get exciting for logistics is if the medium that moves the product could tell you so much more about the product throughout the supply chain and in real time talk to other devices. With perishable products, like aged beef or ripened fruit, IoT can be constantly evaluating not just the temperature in the container, but the maturity of the product and so its effective use by date and on shelf performance. And because IoT involves connection to the internet in real time, you get much more valuable data and analytics at all points. This in turn means it’s easier to look at improving performance and creating a more seamless and connected technology enabled supply chain.”

Clothing & general merchandise retailers have a key focus to accurately collect data from stores on buyer behaviour and trends. An IoT intelligent store environment could help retailers understand where they have missed consumer purchasing opportunities. In the Online virtual world such consumer behaviour can be easier to monitor because retailers can collect huge amounts of data about products viewed, but not bought, and shopping baskets abandoned . IoT means we can have an automated means of collecting data about what people are trying on in store, what they discard and their buying decisions. We’ll be able to supplement human interaction in store with intelligent clothes rails – even look at what items are taken into a changing room. We’ll be able to trace and map what customers did in the store, without interrupting the shopping experience.

For example retailers will be able to run A/B tests with networked cameras to see how customers engage with specific products. All of this could then be consolidated into retail range planning, in order to impact range success and ultimately the bottom line. IoT will enable retailers to capture as much intelligence automatically within the store, as if they were in a highly enabled data capture virtual environment.

This November will see the Internet of Things World Forum take place in London – with experts from Cisco, Microsoft, Orange and O2 – who will all be discussing these emerging technologies and how they are going to change the way we live, work, play and manage our environments. Allport Cargo Services will be following these discussions with huge interest to see how IoT can support our clients in improving their supply chain strategy in terms of leverage, communication, efficiency, innovation, risk management and continuous improvement.