An interview with Malcolm Wheatley from Automotive Logistics Magazine about the future of track and trace a couple of weeks ago, made me think further about the possibilities of track and trace for logistics.
Track and trace is no new technology and no current trend. We have been working in our industry on track and trace for about two decades now, though we are far from a satisfying overall application of this technology. Sure, each carrier should know where their trucks are today and where they are heading, but the manufacturer, retailer or whoever the customer is, far too often perceives the transportation itself as a black box. And it’s not that the carriers wouldn’t like to share, they all offer interfaces to provide their data. However, all these interfaces are different including the systems from the customer’s side. There is no standardization for the use of the data and the integration of the information.
Therefore, supply chain management platforms have been built to collect data from all relevant dispatch and telematics systems and then accumulate and provide it to the customer. And these systems do their job, no question about it. But what did we achieve? Again, there are hundreds of such wanna-be standard platforms! And so again, there is no standardization, no real scaling.
And why should everybody choose the same system to collect its data? Each company involved in logistics has different requirements and processes, different preferences and emphases on how it wants to improve. Therefore, there is a reason why there are so many different players and it seems quite impossible to get everyone to agree to one standard.
The easiest way: Blockchain
Nevertheless, there could be a solution. The one database for our entire track and trace information and maybe beyond that, could be built and be successful, if it is offered as a neutral service, which has unprecedented low-costs and is not owned by a single company, but by the whole industry.
These attributes are all matched by what is known as a blockchain. A blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties in a verifiable and permanent way. In terms of logistics, blockchains could act as trustworthy, neutral middle men collecting the data of all participants. The technology would allow rules to be set for the data collection, access and transfer. These rules could include which partner can access which data under which conditions and at what time.
Following the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, we could build our publicly available Logistics Blockchain, which is owned by the market. The data owner would control the transfer and access of data and everybody could connect in order to push-in or pull-out data.
There would be more benefits with track and trace technology than just an easier way to integrate. Groups of companies could form alliances to share their data, and 3rd party applications could offer value-added services. With machine learning, the data of such an alliance could be used to offer more precise predictions of deviations in the supply chain, calculations of the vehicles’ Estimated Time of Arrival or of required maintenance. If we go beyond simple tracking information and work with order data, Agile Optimization could analyze the data in real-time and help to allocate the resources in the best way possible, which would result in a gigantic increase in load factor and utilization.
In the automotive logistics industry, track and trace systems have already been in use for a long time. However, there are no standardized interfaces and systems, yet, on the customer’s side. Therefore, it is not yet common to share data so that different parts and participants in the automotive supply chain can be connected and synchronized to an optimized plan without delays. New technologies, such as blockchain, can support this holistic integration and aimed distribution of information.
Do you think this could be a realistic way to cooperate more closely but not have one party control the market? Could we finally eliminate the huge waste of our individually managed processes?
Header photo: chase4concept/shutterstock.com