While the IoT has driven digital transformation through a broad range of industries over the years, few sectors have changed as dramatically as transportation and logistics. Key industry players are increasingly leveraging intelligent edge devices, and capitalizing on advances in connectivity and cloud technologies, to build IoT asset tracking applications to monitor and track the movement of products and assets in real-time, through various stages of the supply chain.
The visibility and insights delivered by these IoT tracking systems are enabling shippers, carriers, and logistics service providers to dramatically improve operational efficiency, shipping performance, and their customers’ experiences.
Annexia, headquartered in Montreal, Canada, has been a pioneer in helping transportation and logistics companies use the IoT to transform their supply chains. Specializing in the development of turnkey ultra-low power consumption asset management solutions, Annexia turns traditional passive assets into smart transportation equipment, enabling companies in the freight management industry to monitor the location and status of their trailers, containers and other assets. Using the insights delivered by its NStar™ IoT asset tracking and management solution, Annexia’s customers are maximizing asset utilization, reducing theft and generating additional revenue.
I sat down with Annexia’s co-founder Kim L. Lim to discuss the forces driving the adoption of IoT asset tracking in the transportation and logistics market. We also asked him about any challenges his customers face when it comes to the IoT, how Annexia differentiates its solutions, and how IoT is redefining the future of freight management.
Annexia co-founder Kim L. Lim: One key factor we hear from our customers is their desire to improve their operational efficiency. For example, many of our customers have large inventories of trailers, containers, and other transportation equipment, and they want real-time data on where this equipment is and what condition it is in, so they maximize its utilization. We have collected data that shows that an improvement in asset utilization of just one percent generates an additional $1,200 in revenue per unit annually for our customers, from more efficient fleet operations, planning and inventory management.
There are other factors as well. With real-time data on where their equipment is, carriers can provide their customers with more accurate and timely information on the status of their shipments, including whether their shipment has been picked up, if it is in transit, or if it has been delivered.
Another factor that people often do not think of that is driving IoT tracking system adoption is the need to reduce equipment theft. In fact, that is what led to us develop our solution in the first place – carriers wanted to find equipment that had been stolen.
Safety is also one of our customers’ top priorities, and the fact that the IoT allows them to easily auto-mate the collection and analysis of safety information is a big deal. For example, new, more powerful edge devices and cloud software now allow our customers to access a wide variety of safety-related information, such as whether a trailer’s tires are under-inflated or if its brakes are functioning proper-ly.
A: One of the main challenges we see customers struggling with is confusion regarding the IoT itself. For example, even today many new customers assume that they have to be technology experts to connect IoT devices to their equipment and use our solution. Often, the only way we can help them overcome this misperception is to actually show them how easy it is for them to install and maintain the solutions. We meet with them, and demonstrate to them that you don’t need to be that technical to install our edge devices—that, in fact, practically anyone can do it. We also show them that accessing the data from these devices is simple—all you need is a web browser.
Another challenge—for both our customers and ourselves—is integrating the IoT into the processes our customers have traditionally used to operate their business. Often, our customers want to use our solutions in a different way than we designed them to be used. We have made our solutions pretty flexible, so they can be customized to work the way they want them to work. But there are still some instances where our customers need to transform the processes they use, if they want to fully realize the benefits of our IoT solutions. That is one thing people often forget about digital transformation—it is not just about adopting digital technology, but also about using this technology to transform the way you work so you can maximize its benefits.
A: There are several things that make our solutions different than other providers’. One is that our edge devices are pretty much equipment agnostic—unlike some other asset tracking providers, our devices can be deployed on practically any type of trailer, shipping container or truck chassis. This offers our customers a great deal of flexibility when it comes to deploying our solutions.
We are also a leader in delivering solutions that use ultra-low levels of power. You can’t get any data from a device that is out of power, and accessing the power needed to recharge a device on a shipping container or trailer can be difficult, if not impossible. So, we designed our solutions from the ground up to be extremely energy efficient.
Another differentiator for us is the robustness of our devices. We focused on this when we started the company, knowing that the equipment our devices are connected to are exposed to extreme environmental conditions, including snow, ice, rain, smoke, dust, vibration and both very hot and cold temperatures. Our customers can’t access the data they need if these conditions shut down our devices. From the cold of Northern Canada to the heat and humidity of the Caribbean— our devices have experienced it all, and they have kept on working.
One of our more recent innovations is embedding edge intelligence in our devices. This capability has made it easier for us to customize our asset tracking solution to meet a customers’ unique needs. It also provides our customers with more flexibility over the solution’s lifetime, since they can gather certain types of data when they first install the device, and then later change the data they collect. This is particularly important for our customers because they want these solutions to last for years. With edge processing, our solution can evolve as our customers’ business needs change over time.
A: Partnering with Sierra Wireless has made my life, as well as the lives of my partners and customers, a lot easier. For one, Sierra Wireless Smart IoT Connectivity allows us to deploy our solution globally without having to manage multiple carrier agreements. Whether a shipping container is located in Canada, India or South America, Sierra Wireless provides our customers with the ability to easily secure data on that container’s location and its current status.
Sierra Wireless has also helped us build a network of partners who sell our solutions to customers around the world. Without Sierra Wireless, each of these partners would have to get their own SIMs for our devices. In addition, ensuring all these SIMs maintain their connectivity as they move into different geographies would be a big headache for both us and our partners.
With Sierra Wireless’ Smart IoT Connectivity, we can ship solutions to our partners with Sierra Wireless Smart SIMs already installed in our devices. Our partners can then easily sell and install the devices, providing customers with connectivity that is easy to set-up and maintain, even as equipment moves around the world.
Sierra Wireless’s deep levels of IoT expertise have also been very helpful to us in our new product development efforts. Their people really understand the IoT inside and out, and the knowledge they have on the future of the IoT has been very useful to us as we build the next generation of our asset management tracking solution.
A: What I see around the corner is the being able to track and trace almost anything as it moves through a supply chain. This is something people have been talking about for a long time, but it is now finally coming close to becoming a reality.
In the future, data orchestration technologies will make it easy to distribute computing from edge sensors to cloud, bringing even more flexibility to asset tracking solutions:
Thus, the ideal technologies for asset tracking will rely on IoT data orchestration with distributed intelligence processing from deep edge to cloud through LPWA networks. We count on Sierra Wireless to deliver this, integrated with their smart IoT connectivity.
Like Annexia, companies around the world are using Sierra Wireless’ Smart IoT Connectivity. Start with Sierra today to find out how you can thrive in the connected economy.
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