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THE INTERNET OF ROBOTIC THINGS: HOW IOT AND ROBOTICS ARE EVOLVING TO BENEFIT THE SUPPLY CHAIN

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By Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales Northern and Western Europe at SOTI

 

The Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT) is a rapidly evolving technology. In just a few decades, industrial robots have become commonplace in factory settings across the world, and they only continue to gain popularity for their productivity and profitability.

Robotics have created a revolution in manufacturing. The cooperation between robots and IoT technology have enhanced supply chain operations, reducing the challenges of rising e-commerce demands and warehouse worker shortages, and streamlining industry processes in a more efficient and cost-effective way.

Robotics have long been successful in several structured industrial applications, due to their high level of accuracy, precision, endurance and speed. And while robotics have largely become more affordable in recent years, during the early stages of implementation in the supply chain, there was a high cost factor, which meant robotics needed to be evaluated and integrated correctly to avoid jeopardising their value.

In order to achieve the best possible return on investment (ROI), at the fastest rate, businesses must have a strategy to integrate any new robotics technology with all other IoT endpoints to ensure the entire supply chain is secure and operating seamlessly, to avoid system interruptions or loss of revenue, and gain valuable data insights.

The proliferating trend of automation sweeping across the globe has meant that from 2020 to 2022, almost two million new units of industrial robots are expected to be installed in factories around the world. In fact, Europe has the highest robot density globally, with an average value of 114 units per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry alone.[1]

 

The supply chain IoRT revolution

IoRT is a concept in which intelligent technology can monitor and manipulate the events happening around them by fusing their sensor data and making use of local conditions to decide on a particular course of action of how to behave or control objects in the physical world.

Manufacturing and transportation and logistics companies have been pioneers of today’s IoRT revolution, leading the way to connect and automate industry operations. Given the complex nature of the supply chain, the use of robotics helps to streamline operations by developing process-driven automated functions, simplifying processes and working at a tireless pace to meet ever-increasing demands. What’s more, they are not restricted by the weight capacity of humans, nor do they have a limit to their energy levels. With today’s trend of fast delivery services and an influx of increasing e-commerce traffic, robotics is a smart way for businesses to keep up with current consumer demands and expectations.

Today, most tasks that are crucial to the supply chain, including the movement of products from within a warehouse or distribution centre, rely heavily on robotic technology to achieve the maximum level of efficiency and accuracy needed to meet demands. An example of this would be Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which are quickly becoming a staple in supply chain warehouses. Portable, automated and sensor driven machines, AGVs work to navigate the warehouse floor at a faster rate than any human worker, and they can work around the clock, seven days a week. By speeding up operations and removing the chance of human error, the integration of robotic technologies like AGVs is fast becoming the key to increased supply chain productivity.

 

Implementing robotics for a ROI 

Supply chain businesses have been implementing and actively exploring IoRT transformation initiatives for some time, and research shows this uptake will only continue to grow in the future.

In the supply chain, the deployment of robotics focuses mainly on increasing productivity and lowering operational costs. However, in order to gain the highest value, supply chains must optimise their robotic systems as part of an all-encompassing supply chain strategy, not just in silos.

IoRT operations become most powerful when they are seamlessly connected to a centralised supply chain management system that connects the responsibilities of employees; aligning both managers and the IT departments to manage and optimise the use of all supply chain technologies and systems, including robotics.

When properly integrated, all supply chain business teams have access to real-time visibility of all connected endpoints and a wealth of data insights from the entire supply chain, including the performance and accuracy of the IoRT. This helps to enhance the use of robotics alongside other technologies and to rapidly uncover any robotics technical issues or inefficiencies. It allows technical support staff to act at the earliest possible opportunity, and in turn minimise the impact of costly slowed productivity or complete outages. Real-time insights provided by an integrated mobility and IoT management platform can help reduce the overhead costs of tasks, such as maintenance and program updates, by identifying system problems before they happen.

By enabling predictive maintenance for IoRT technology, it also becomes possible to make an evaluation on whether they are effectively achieving a decent ROI for the business.

There is no doubt that the use of robotic automation in the supply chain can boost both productivity and revenue. However, to guarantee the highest value from robotics investments, businesses must effectively converge business-critical IoRT and other IoT endpoints into a holistic and secure supply chain management ecosystem.

 

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Technology

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT ENHANCING THE ORDER-TO-CASH PROCESS WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

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Mark Sheldon, Chief Technology Officer, Sidetrade

 

The global pandemic has meant companies everywhere have woken up to the fact that cash is king, leading to a renewed prioritisation of liquidity generation and cash conservation to survive.

One of the ways that companies have sought to secure cash flow is through improved Order-to-Cash (O2C) processes – helping enterprises minimise risks and maximise returns in their financial dealings.

 

But not all O2C processes are created equal. In fact, I see the current O2C market split into three segments:

  1. The first being the companies that employ manual siloed systems, who continue to work predominantly with Excel spreadsheets and even the postal system, and they continue to manually process customer data across a variety of siloed functions (sales, support, finance, etc.).
  2. The second segment, and where we start to see technology being leveraged, is a more digitised approach, whereby the basics of automation are employed, or digital collection media such as email is the norm. Firms taking advantage of these kinds of technologies can expect to benefit from improved efficiencies across the whole O2C process.
  3. The third and most mature segment however, and where the full benefits can be reaped, is when AI capabilities are built into the O2C process.

Mark Sheldon

In overlaying AI into this process, firms are able to leverage data and intelligent insights to supercharge their efficiencies even further. Teams can benefit from AI-powered recommendations that lead to optimum results, improved customer retention and overall streamlined O2C workflows. Customers can enjoy a much more sophisticated and effective end-to-end experience with their suppliers. And the business at large can benefit from significantly healthier cash flow, reduced bad debt and the enhanced ability to better forward plan.

But where to start when implementing AI technologies into your O2C process and what are the most important things you should be aware of?

 

Top tips for implementing AI-powered O2C systems

Firstly, it’s important to look past the hype of AI. It’s become a bit of a buzzword across all industries, and there are many vendors out there that label themselves as an AI provider, but simply don’t have the creds for it.

Fundamentally, without historical data, there is no AI. A company just starting out for example, might have the technical abilities to build an AI platform, but is highly unlikely to have the data sets required to feed it, and make it truly “intelligent”.

Secondly, it is critical to clarify the difference between robotic process automation (RPA) and AI. Many RPA vendors talk about AI and RPA interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

RPA is generally concerned with automating everyday processes – using software “bots” that you can set up to emulate a particular task; so it’s very much focused on automation of existing manual processes. Whilst there are some similarities in terms of efficiency benefits, it’s very different from what we do in AI. In AI, we use algorithms to intelligently recommend the best course of action, by taking the human thinking out of the system.

The risk with a purely RPA-based solution is that you end up automating ineffective or even damaging processes. For example, missing insight into where bottlenecks lie, or where siloed systems further amplify cash flow problems. So you could argue there is nothing truly intelligent about RPA.

Thirdly and finally, one of the biggest barriers that still exists today for anyone looking to employ AI in the O2C process, is the cultural challenges. Wherever we deploy AI, the number one challenge in terms of the rollout is the cultural belief and trust that AI is going to do a good job.

Fundamentally, AI-powered O2C software has been proven to improve key business metrics. With AI solutions, you can expect significantly reduced DSO, faster cash collection, and improved efficiencies by up to 50%.

What’s more, with AI, businesses can enjoy far more in-depth insights: understanding which suppliers aren’t paying fast enough, where to get cash into the business more efficiently, or identifying where the business opportunities for growth lie. All of this is powerful ammunition for CFOs looking to implement a cash-to-cash culture across the entire business, and a valuable aid in demonstrating the significant impact that AI in the O2C process can have across the business.

 

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DIGITAL TICKETING: THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FACING PTOS AND PTAS.

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By

Arnaud Depaigne, Product Manager, Smart mobility at Fime.

 

Transport ticketing has rapidly evolved in the digital age. As recently as the 1990s, closed loop systems based around paper tickets or tokens were the norm. This resulted in a poor user experience. Lines to purchase tickets were often long, and turnstile throughput was inefficient. Today, passengers can use a smartcard or even their phone as their ticket, utilizing contactless and Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality to tap-and-go.

This proliferation of digital ticketing has only been further accelerated over the last 18 months. The pandemic has presented Public Transport Operators (PTOs) and Public Transport Authorities (PTAs) with an urgent need for hygienic contactless solutions. As passenger numbers slowly begin to return, the ecosystem is presented with a unique opportunity to advance urban mobility and move towards a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) model. However, with this also comes a series of challenges.

 

Reacting to changing user behavior

Arnaud Depaigne

Today’s consumer world is digital, global and on demand. Passengers want seamless integrated solutions that allow them to plan and pay for their transit using only the device in their pocket. Furthermore, the urban mobility ecosystem is seeing a rising demand for interoperable MaaS solutions that provide end-to-end transportation on a single ticket. Mobile ticketing must deliver on these expectations as well as being user friendly, reliable and secure.

In part, this is being achieved by changing the focal point of urban mobility from the station to the passenger themselves. This consumer-centric approach allows PTOs and PTAs to reconfigure their sales and distribution channels to meet the growing demand for digital solutions.

Mobility providers can achieve this by integrating Host Card Emulation (HCE) and NFC technologies into their ticketing solutions. More technologically literate passengers will already be familiar with digital wallets and contactless payments. This mitigates concerns about achieving widespread user adoption and means that any digital urban mobility solution could be rolled out at speed. Another benefit to this is that it significantly cuts costs for providers. As passengers no longer require mode-specific travel cards, everything is instead accessible on one device. Providers can therefore cut their expenditure on manufacturing the cards themselves. They can also scale back the on-the-ground resources allocated to support issuance.

 

Context is key

When rolling out a solution, providers must be mindful that each individual passenger has different needs. Cities have unique transit networks of varying sizes that require different approaches. Furthermore, any solution must be accessible to all demographics, from digital natives to those who are less technologically adept. They must also remain aware that not every passenger will have a bank account. Solutions must not exclude people. They must offer customers a range of options to make their payment.

Account-based ticketing (ABT) manages the consumer’s funds in the back-office account, making the payment automatically. This gives users flexibility to move between several fare media to make payments depending on what is most convenient at the time – be it by smartcard, mobile device or wearable. To this end, ABT solutions simplify maintenance logistics, improve security while also ultimately reducing the cost of urban mobility.

By moving from a stored value card system to an account-based approach, PTOs and PTAs can achieve “the holy grail of ABT” as it has been described by Visa. This system opens the door for future adjacent services by achieving interoperability between different fare media.

 

The importance of open standards

Open standards can offer a pathway to truly realizing seamless transport ticketing. With open standards, PTOs and PTAs remain in control of their ticketing network as the supply chain remains open to multiple solution providers. Providers can therefore avoid vendor lock-in and the issues that can present. Furthermore, an open standards approach means that PTOs and PTAs can evolve organically with the technology as it is rolled out. This allows them to remain agile and prepared for future challenges and developments.

 

The need for expertise

PTOs and PTAs will need to continue evolving with future technological developments. By remaining aware of the challenges that may lie ahead, they can put themselves in the best possible position to capitalize on opportunities. Infrastructure migration does not necessarily require huge investments, and with the right support, the transition can be made as smooth as possible.

Fime’s global expertise can help demystify and simplify ABT deployment. With over 20+ years of experience ensuring the efficient and successful implementation of card and mobile transaction services. Fime is well-equipped and experienced in supporting the transport market in delivering the next generation of transit ticketing solutions in a complex market.

 

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