That's Logistics: M2M Solutions Support Asset Tracking, Real-Time Supply Chain


That's Logistics: M2M Solutions Support Asset Tracking, Real-Time Supply Chain

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  July 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the JULY issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Traditionally, airports have been erected near cities, and road were paved to allow the exchange of people and goods between those transportation hubs and surrounding communities. The new model, however, puts the airport at the center of the community, with housing and other supporting infrastructure springing up around it. At least that’s the theory of a book I’m reading called Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

Whether you believe that’s true or not, this new tome by John D. Kararda and Greg Lindsay highlights the growing importance of global trade, just-in-time delivery, and a collective short attention span both in business and personal life. And it details the stories of how pivotal FedEx and UPS have become not just for Memphis and Louisville, the cities they call home, but also for life as we know it.

Indeed, as the book notes, FedEx and its overnight rivals carry 75 percent of all U.S. air cargo, despite prices three or four times higher than incumbents. Businesses and individuals are willing to pay a premium for such services because they are fast, trackable, and pretty darned reliable.

Of course, delivering these kinds of services requires a whole lot of infrastructure and process on the back end. Clearly, the brand of outrageously orchestrated process that companies like FedEx and UPS have put in place is unique. But whether we’re talking about a company of this ilk, or any size company with a fleet of vehicles, and/or a need to reliably track and otherwise keep tabs on assets or individuals, the ability to have the right tools in place is of the utmost importance.

Machine-to-machine communications is playing a growing role in these efforts. And the fact that prices for M2M radios, which a few years ago cost a couple hundred dollars, are dropping down below the $10 mark, likely means we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of thing going forward.

Stratton Nicolaides, CEO of machine-to-machine-based service provider Numerex (News - Alert), was guarded when asked about how, if at all, his company works with the big overnight shipping companies. But he did say that FedEx, UPS and many others are doing some intriguing things related to location-based services that they could leverage internally or use to offer new types of services.

He talked about how new technologies and solutions can help organizations better determine traffic patterns to allow for more efficient shipping. Nicolaides also mentioned it is now possible to follow an item throughout its lifecycle – for example, “tracking a weapon from its origin to its destination, and then finding out what the weapon will do during its history.”

Of course, tracking vehicles themselves is a widespread and well understood application for location-based technology. Many businesses and governmental institutions are already employing such solutions. For example, Numerex has been tapped by its partner QinetiQ (News - Alert) to supply an asset tracking solution for the federal government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. This enables FEMA to get a handle on where in the country its trucks and other equipment are located at any given time.

Nicolaides added that one of the key verticals on which Numerex is focused is the insurance industry. Some businesses in insurance are interested in more accurately gauging their customers’ behaviors behind the wheel – including how fast they drive in given settings and scenarios – and how that aligns with the driving behaviors those same customers described when they signed up for their insurance policies. Numerex, he says, is building a platform and has a service bureau to provide insurance companies with such information, which is captured by M2M devices that insured motorists are asked to place in their vehicles. In mid May, Numerex was in multiple trials with several insurance companies to monitor such behavior, in an effort to help those businesses not only better understand customer driving behavior, but potentially use that information to offer select customers different insurance options when appropriate.

Of course, these are just a few examples of how M2M can figure into people and asset tracking solutions. Other examples can be found in the health care (monitoring patients in their homes), real estate (tracking the activity on a lockbox) and pharmaceutical (checking the condition of medication en route) industries, to name just a few.

Pharmaceutical is among the key vertical targets for OnAsset Intelligence Inc., said Nikki Cuban, vice president of marketing and business development for the company, which provides shipping companies with M2M-based solutions to help track and protect their customers’ high value products.

CDC Software (News - Alert), a cloud-based ERP outfit; CH Robinson Worldwide; DHL; and Flemming Cargo Securement are among OnAsset’s distribution partners. OnAsset offers its solution for a monthly service fee per M2M device, and the network and management piece is provided at a per-device fee lower than most people’s monthly cell phone bills, Cuban said.

The OnAsset service leverages M2M technology to look at a variety of factors. For example, if an M2M device on a palette or box registers excessive shock, that’s typically a sign of theft, Cuban explained. In this case, one of the companies can take steps to check the cargo and call the police, if needed. This capability has already registered big returns for some of the companies using the OnAsset solution, including one business that was able to recover more than $1 million in stolen goods.

In addition to shock, the OnAsset devices can provide information on humidity, temperature, pressure, light relative to a shipment. Cuban noted that maintaining certain levels of humidity and temperature windows is important in ensuring the effectiveness of some medications and the safety of many things intended for human consumption.

Whether we’re talking about a FedEx or UPS, or any size company with a fleet of vehicles, and/or a need to reliably track and otherwise keep tabs on assets or individuals, the ability to have the right tools in place is of the utmost importance.

Edited by Rich Steeves


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