We've all heard about the Internet of Things (IoT for short) and how it could revolutionise our homes through innovations such as intelligent refrigerators and heating systems.
But what if it could make a difference in terms of streamlining international buying and selling too? Writing in an article for Global Trade magazine, Gregg Abbate of automation solutions provider Advantech said he thinks this new technology could create an intelligent, IoT-powered logistics network that allows the industry to track goods from anywhere, thereby "transforming the modern supply chain as we know it".
What is the IoT and how can it help?
So, what exactly is the IoT? To give it its proper definition, it's a system of interrelated computing devices, machines or objects that have unique identifiers and can transfer data without humans having to be involved.
However, it's about much more than home-based devices and ensuring a ready supply of cheese or a warm living room.
Let's bring it back to supply chains, where any business owner knows that missteps and unexpected hiccups can occur. Products can be travelling thousands of miles and change hands multiple times before they arrive, which leaves plenty of scope for error.
Sometimes, importers cannot know if something they are expecting is simply delayed or has actually gone missing and will therefore require further action. Similarly, exporters will want peace of mind and to avoid the hassle that comes from their business partners wondering where their goods are.
This is where the IoT can step in. Usually, there is little real-time data available on exactly where shipments are. But by using the more detailed information created by IoT sensors along the supply chain, companies can see precisely where things might be going wrong.
"Real-time tracking provides data with fine-grain accuracy, hyper-speed connectivity, low-latency (less downtime), and deep coverage. Assets connected to the IoT network don't rely on WiFi or 4G, so connectivity issues are lessened, regardless of where the asset travels," Mr Abbate pointed out.
Not only could this help to solve problems as they arise, but it might also assist companies with anticipating issues and becoming proactive rather than reactive in terms of making supply chains more efficient.
Ports could use the IoT for warehouse storage monitoring, for example, while security firms might want it to create alarm sensors that can improve the scrutiny of cargo.
At a time of rapid transformation in logistics, the IoT could indeed prove revolutionary.
"Investing in IoT-powered smart logistics solutions has no longer become a 'nice to have' option, but a critical necessity, giving the industry all the tools it needs to remain at the forefront of agile innovation in an ever-changing world," Mr Abbate concluded.
First things first?
We agree that it's vital to keep innovating and keep making the most of new developments in technology in order to streamline trade.
However, it is perhaps also worth considering that new gadgets might need to be pushed a little further down the list of priorities if the more vital bases aren't being fully covered first.
For example, when was the last time your business analysed its trade compliance? With such an impetus on getting shipments back and to as quickly as possible, this can sometimes be a neglected area of the trade process.
However, that doesn't make it any less essential - and ignorance or procrastination will not be an excuse should a sudden audit find it falling short.
A good compliance programme and the tools you need to create it should be viewed as insurance that you are meeting your legal requirements in the eyes of customs and other government organisations.
And, since it can be something of a moving target, compliance should be viewed as an ongoing process, not something to be done once or occasionally and then forgotten. What's more, it could even save money for businesses thanks to duty savings and preventable border delays.
Instead of viewing compliance as an afterthought and going after the latest, shiniest new trends, it's important to make it part of your day-to-day operations.
MIC can help
As the leading supplier of global customs and trade compliance solutions, we know this area can be complex - but you needn't do it yourself.
We specialise in integrating customs and trade compliance systems based on your company's specific needs and taking into account local legal requirements, ensuring efficient operations.
With us, you'll have an expert partner to negotiate the challenges that come with international trade management and less need to worry about whether or not you are compliant with the law - which means it might be OK to look into shiny new gadgets occasionally, after all.
Just give us a call or drop us a message online to discuss how we can assist with any of these issues.