Per molti operatori della Supply Chain è fondamentale conoscere la posizione precisa e lo stato di ogni spedizione. Generalmente il tracking delle spedizioni fornisce informazioni di base come ad esempio l’arrivo in un punto di smistamento, in un porto o in un aeroporto. Molte aziende però vorrebbero avere una conoscenza in tempo reale della posizione esatta e delle condizioni del prodotto. Questo è particolarmente importante per chi spedisce prodotti di alto valore: avere la possibilità di monitorare real time la posizione precisa e le condizioni del prodotto riduce rischi e ritardi.
Conoscere in tempo reale la posizione e le condizioni di un prodotto spedito è esattamente ciò che i team di Microsoft Surface e XBox stavano cercando di ottenere. In questo caso studio descriviamo come Microsoft ha potuto monitorare la Supply Chain grazie ad Azure IoT Central.
Microsoft logistics team gains supply chain visibility using Azure IoT Central
When it comes to supply chain operations, confidence comes from knowing the precise location and state of every shipment at every point in its journey.
While supply chain operators have traditionally tracked shipments at critical points (such as arriving at a port or being transferred between carriers), the goal for many operators is real-time visibility into a shipment’s location and ambient condition. This goal is particularly important for organizations shipping high-value products—having the ability to track product location and condition reduces the risk of loss, minimizes delays, and empowers businesses to adapt to dynamic global conditions.
Preparing for a critical holiday period and upcoming launches
Real-time visibility is exactly what the Microsoft Surface and Xbox supply chain team was looking to achieve. Xbox is a Microsoft video gaming brand, and Surface is a family of productivity devices designed to keep you in the flow of life. To keep up with global demand, millions of Xbox consoles and Surface devices are manufactured and shipped across the globe every year. Getting these products into customers’ hands involves a very complex supply chain ecosystem. Microsoft leverages a diverse set of partners, including contract manufacturers, distribution centers, logistics providers, and carriers.
In advance of the busy holiday shopping season in late 2019 and the upcoming introduction of many new Surface SKUs, the Xbox and Surface team was developing a solution to provide a new level of real-time shipment location and status insights across its global supply chain.
This Microsoft team was also thinking ahead, preparing for the launch of the latest Xbox console, Xbox Series X, and for a series of new Surface product launches in 2020. Launching a new product typically involves ensuring secrecy and stringent adherence to the launch date. This requires extensive coordination to ensure there are no leakages about the product prior to the launch date and to ensure the new products are on stores’ shelves by a certain date. Achieving these standards is vital to Microsoft’s branding and image.
That’s one key reason why end-to-end, track-and-trace capabilities are so critical. They dramatically improve Microsoft’s ability to effectively manage risk associated with shipment delivery delays, damages, and losses. A typical ocean shipment takes three weeks—and every time there is a weather anomaly or a backlog at a port, there’s a risk of missing a promised delivery date, delivering a poor customer experience, and losing sales opportunities. This risk is amplified during holiday seasons due to huge spikes in shipments. In addition, any damage and loss during shipping can also have a significant financial impact, particularly with high-value products. Microsoft was interested in testing the benefits of a single platform connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices on shipments globally, streamlining analytics and device management.
Designing a supply chain visibility solution with Microsoft Azure IoT Central and Intel
The Microsoft team partnered with TMC (a division of C.H. Robinson), a global technology and logistics management provider, and used its visibility product Navisphere® Vision to design a transformative solution that could be deployed globally. The goal was to track and monitor shipments’ ambient condition for shock, light, and temperature to identify any damage in real time, anywhere in the world—at a scale covering millions of products. “The only way you can gain this visibility is through IoT devices,” says Chris Cutshaw, Director of Commercial and Product Strategy at TMC. “That’s why using Azure IoT Central was crucial for us.”
To meet the team’s needs, TMC delivered a global supply chain solution featuring Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP) that integrates smart sensor tags and Intel Edge Gateways that communicate to Microsoft Azure IoT Central, providing visibility from plant to final delivery. The Intel® CLP solution helped automate shipment tracking and provided enhanced shipment condition data like temperature, humidity, light exposure, shock, tilt, and more about goods as they move through the supply chain to their final destination. The Microsoft team could monitor the shipments, down to the package level, in almost real time. This meant that if any tampering, delays, or condition thresholds were breached, team representatives could immediately interact with their network to address the issue in a timely fashion.
The flexibility of the Intel® CLP solution allowed for custom configuration, such as creating geo-fence alerts, establishing intervals for data capture and upload to the Azure cloud platform, and setting alert thresholds.
Security was an essential foundation for the solution, from the device to the cloud. TMC wanted to ensure the highest degree of security, especially given the need to reduce theft and loss during transit. In evaluating security capabilities, TMC found that Microsoft’s investment in cloud security set a high bar. And the ability to set specific permissions and access controls based on jobs was particularly important given the many different participants in a global supply chain.
TMC also highlighted speed and ease as key advantages of IoT technology from Microsoft. “The real power comes in the combination of C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere Vision, technology that is built by and for supply chain experts, and the speed, security, and connectivity of Azure IoT Central,” says Cutshaw of TMC. “Through these combined technologies, we’re able to offer our customers easy connectivity and onboarding, unrivaled cloud security, and unmatched supply chain visibility and predictability.”
Planning for solution deployment beyond Xbox and Surface
TMC initially looked at the option of building a solution from scratch that fit with its existing Navisphere Vision product, but it quickly realized that the effort would have been time-consuming and costly, with no added benefits. Given the ease of interoperability with Azure IoT Central, a fully managed platform, TMC gained rapid internal support. According to Cutshaw of TMC, “Because we didn’t have to go and architect a bunch, and because we could manage using Azure IoT Central, it was an easy sell to our IT team. Without Azure IoT Central, we would not be where we are today.”
Beyond the Microsoft supply chain, TMC anticipates being able to quickly roll out IoT benefits with Navisphere Vision to other customers, thanks to the multi-tenancy capabilities of Azure IoT Central. As the TMC team prepares for a broader rollout, pricing is one thing they aren’t concerned about. “For us, Azure IoT Central pricing is simple to understand—we don’t have to run a bunch of complex models to understand what our costs will look like,” says Cutshaw.
Gaining insight during holiday shipping and gearing up for the 2020 launch season
The Microsoft and TMC teams piloted the solution in production during the late 2019 holiday season and have already seen impact. Live visibility into shipments—across countries, multiple modes of transportation, and multiple carriers—gave the Xbox and Surface staff a new level of confidence. With the solution, logistics specialists now can visualize status and see granular details about events happening in real time, while executives get a summary “lobby” view showing trends.
Going into the 2020 launch season, the Microsoft team is well prepared to achieve 100 percent real-time visibility through its diverse set of partners, including the innovation driven by the Navisphere Vision IoT solution.
Exploring future possibilities, like inventory optimization and new platform capabilities
Over time, as more data is collected and trends are identified, the Navisphere Vision solution from TMC will deliver other benefits. One such example is eliminating excess inventory in transit. A business that sells millions of devices and uses ocean carriers for fulfillment may have 40 to 60 days of inventory in motion at a given time. With more precise visibility into supply chain logistics, the business might discover places with unnecessary dwell times. By making incremental changes to remove a day or two of transit, the business could reduce overall stock in the supply chain, freeing up operating capital to invest elsewhere.
TMC is already working on expanding its solution. For example, the company plans to roll out interoperability with Microsoft Teams to provide fast, easy communication across supply chain participants—which is particularly critical when issues occur. And that’s just the start. Cutshaw from TMC says, “We’re excited about building a device-agnostic, solution-provider-agnostic platform—this will have huge impacts for our customers.”
Thanks to IoT innovation, real-time visibility into the location and conditions of every shipment will become the norm, paving the way for a future with less risk, more predictability and proactive decision making, and greater peace of mind.