Optimizing System Integration

When planning strategies for the various aspects of your supply chain, crucial challenge is integration and optimization of all those systems. How to do this ? It is essential to always have at the forefront of your mind that a sum is greater than the sum of its parts. Excelling in individual elements will not magically improve your business’s efficiency, if you fail to connect the dots between different sectors and make everything work as one.

To ensure that everything works as smoothly as possible, we must put some thought into creating a sensible plan for adopting and integrating a wide range of solutions that will facilitate communication between the different sectors of your operation. We will look at the ways it is possible to employ technological innovation to create a broader, more cohesive work ecosystem. 

Supply chain challenges

Supply chains and transport management are reliant on large data sets that require real-time analysis. It is crucial in this competitive market to be on top of your game. The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought havoc upon supply chains, effectively making this demanding branch of the economy fraught with even more perils that can negatively impact your bottom line.  Moving things around the globe is a complex process, and adopting the newest Transportation Management Systems is only one way in which it is possible to optimize throughput and introduce more economical choices into your workflow. 

Some of the challenges that you may have to deal with as you manage logistics include negotiating quotes and pricing, selecting the most efficient carrier, tracking shipments, and later analyzing the collected data to make your future choices even sounder.  

So How Can TMS optimize Your Business? 

TMS is concerned primarily with organizing effective transport management in a supply chain. It helps with coordinating the shipping, tracking, and providing custom services that save both time and money. It can be closely integrated with Freight Management Systems (FMS) to provide even better results. FMS solutions are generally third-party logistics companies that offer a wide range of services, including transportation, warehousing, and fulfillment. 

Crucial for the success of these solutions is the radical advancement of technology in recent years. Automation is here for good, and through the use of IoT technology, machine learning, AI, blockchain, and smart contracts, businesses can now remove human involvement in much of these decision processes. Human involvement is prone to error, is also much more time-consuming. It is better to redirect human participation into the more creative aspects of decision-making. Technology can facilitate real-time observation of the situation and apply corrections when necessary. 

Sharing Information to Optimize Decision Making 

One of the ways to improve the management and integration of your workplace ecosystem is to create a technological foundation that makes sharing information between different departments quick and straightforward. There are a number of tools on the market to achieve this, notably Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Application Programming Interface (API) technology. These systems allow for information technology networks to quickly exchange information between themselves in an automated fashion. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both of these systems, which we will go over shortly. 

EDI technology has been around for a few years and is already considered a legacy technology in many circles. For what it offers, it succeeds exceedingly well, although its age is showing in some regards. EDI allows for the immediate transfer of invoices, order forms, and shipping documents. The fact that it has been used for so long is a testament to its reliability. It is also highly flexible and can be utilized in other sectors besides logistics. Another advantage is the low financial barrier one needs to cross to implement it in one’s workplace ecosystem and the fact that it works well with different IT stacks. Its age shows when we start analyzing the speed at which it operates. It may take hours for certain pieces of information to be shared, and the security measures it undertakes are lackluster compared to the immutability and cryptographic prowess of blockchain technology. 

API’s are an improvement upon EDI and offer numerous upgrades that allow the creation of more integrated systems. Firstly, APIs permit bi-directional communication between networks.  Information is efficiently passed between many entities, enabling rapid communication between brokers, carriers, and supply chain partners. The only downside of this technology is the fact that this solution requires that all involved parties have open APIs. Many legacy systems do not host this possibility. 

Real-Time Location Systems and their Advantages 

Another technological solution that can significantly benefit system optimization is Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS). This innovation can be used to manage the tracking of both material assets and personnel in the workplace. From a technical standpoint, RTLS usually involves a transmitter attached to a worker or asset and serves as both a form of identification while transmitting location data over a wireless signal. The next element of this system is the receiver. A receiver pinpoints the exact location of the aforementioned asset or person. Receivers calculate the transmitter’s whereabouts by employing sensors that either pick up on the proximity of the transmitter to the receiver or use a process called trilateration. Performing these calculations are several receivers that calculate the time it takes for the transmitter to send a signal to three or more receivers. The final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of a management portal. The management portal is a central database to which all of the collected location data trickles down. By collecting the collected data in one place, it can be used by human operators armed to analyze the findings to ensure more effective performance in the future. 

The Different Kinds of RTLS

There exist a number of wireless solutions when using RTLS. We will go briefly go over the most popular ones.

  • Passive RFID– this kind of RFID tag does not contain an onboard battery. Instead, it powers up when it finds itself in close proximity to a wireless signal coming from a receiver. Their major downside is that they suffer from a short-range but, on the other hand, are pretty cheap and robust.
  • Active RFID– larger, heavier, and more expensive, active RFID tags use an onboard battery that compensates for all the shortcomings of their passive alternatives. Boasting a larger range of up to 100 meters, they are better at tracking assets and personnel. 
  • Infrared (IR)– these systems are ideal if you wish to track items that are found in more confined spaces where it is possible to ensure receivers have a clear line of sight to the tag. This low-cost solution uses the same technology as television remotes. 
  • Wi-Fi positioning systems (WPS)– this approach towards location tracking is widely available considering the prevalence of Wi-Fi technology but suffers from some drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is similar to that which plagues passive RFID, and that is the short-range over which the signal from the tag can be detected (around 10 meters). Another issue surrounding WPS is that it can be less than ideal in remote locations where Wi-Fi access is limited or if you possess a Wi-Fi “dead-spot” in your place of work. 
  • Ultra-wideband (UWB)– this is an extremely precise yet also significantly costlier alternative to the ones mentioned above. By employing a broad palette of frequencies, the signal emitted by UWB tags is robust and not subject to interference. One of the drawbacks is their intermediate-range making them ideal for indoor asset tracking. 
  • Cellular – lastly, a very popular option involves employing cellular bands to provide real-time location services. One of the main advantages stems from the fact that it is quite simple to adopt cellphones to become part of the RTLS network. Also worthy of note is that this solution involves employing a connection to outdoor cellular antennas. This can be problematic in specific locations that, due to poorer coverage, may require a repeater antenna to be installed on-site to compensate for inferior signal. 


RTLS Use Cases 

A large number of use-cases involving RTLS involve some form of security implementation. An example of this application is allowing only authorized personnel access to high-value material assets and ensuring that tagged assets do not leave certain areas. This can be done by employing “geofences” to alert superiors that an asset is exiting its designated sector. RTLS is also perfect for keeping records of how much a given asset is available and can be used as an anti-theft measure. 

Besides serving as a security measure, RTLS can be applied to other scenarios as well. For example, to ensure particular goods are stored in the right place. This is especially crucial for delicate cargo such as food that may spoil if stored at the wrong temperature. RTLS can also be used to manage the risk that hazardous goods may cause in the case of emergencies by allowing personnel to quickly access and remove cargo in case of a dangerous scenario. Another application is to verify the movements of cargo in a warehouse. The logistics of a warehouse can be optimized through analysis of the data, and procedures can be streamlined to ensure enhanced performance. The technology also allows for real-time reactions to supply chain management challenges. 

Finally, RTLS can be used in high-risk areas to manage personnel and ensure worker safety. Applying the technology to monitor personnel location is ideal in the unfortunate event that a rescue operation is necessary. In the time of Covid-19, we can apply it to monitor employee health by assessing who came into contact with a fellow worker who may have come into contact with the contagion. 

System Integration as the Backbones of Modern Management 

System integration is an area of business in which we will always find room for improvement. Fortunately, it has already gained a foothold in numerous industries and introduced new solutions while reinforcing existing management procedures. The flexibility and low cost of these solutions are astounding compared to the breadth of information now made accessible to decision-makers. Information is power, and when correctly analyzed, the impact it possesses on management is not to be underestimated. Enhanced performance, streamlined supply-chain management, improved warehouse safety, increased security are just the tip of the iceberg that managers can expect by introducing these state-of-the-art solutions. 

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