For most companies, the dream of a supply chain that produces actionable data, driven by sensors and tracked with RFID and barcodes, remains just out of reach.
A recent survey performed by Sikich, a Chicago-based accounting and consulting firm, found that “while awareness of IoT is increasing, adoption is slow.” Only 9 percent of companies are currently using IoT tech. More than 75 percent of companies surveyed don’t currently have IoT in the works at all. These companies represent a cross section that includes 3PL logistics and other supply chain companies along with other heavy industry and manufacturing.
A “Major Skills Gap” Is Emerging
One factor that doesn’t get addressed in the Sikich report is a shortage of talent with IoT skills & experience across all industries. In the tech world, the problem is well known. Almost one-third of respondents to a survey last year said their organizations faced “major skills gap” in their IoT readiness. This gap across industries has arguably slowed implementation of the technology in several sectors.
The number of developers working in the IoT space hasn’t kept up with demand. Many companies don’t have qualified IT staff on-hand to tackle complex cybersecurity, networking, and device related issues. That’s especially true along the supply chain, where some companies haven’t substantially updated practices since the advent of container shipping.
For a lot of shipping and warehousing professionals, a bigger issue may come from the physical implementation. Adapting 3PL logistics practices for IoT technology is difficult and takes time. There’s also the dual challenges of educating your existing workforce on the new software and hiring new workers who are qualified to use it.
If change management isn’t handled carefully, a knowledge gap between older more experienced employees and new hires (who are more adept with the technology) can emerge that will make the transition more difficult.
For 3PL companies who want to use cutting edge tech, the balance between the new and the well-established presents a challenge. What are some steps you can take to close the knowledge gaps before they widen?
Verify Software Usability
The usability of your WMS interface will have a major effect on how easily your team can implement it.
When companies choose a 3PL to partner with, WMS software is a big selling point. 3PL is one of the rare industries where some successful players are using space-age cloud technology and others are still running their operations like it’s the 1970s. Client’s who value big data and technology will require WMS software that’s up to speed.
Not all WMS software vendors build easy-to-use platforms, though. While the technical capabilities of a software are obviously important, if your staff can’t figure out how to use it, it’s a waste. Keep usability in mind when shopping for a new software vendor — and save yourself headaches during implementation down the line.
Designate Project Leaders
Perhaps the most important step in a successful rollout is choosing the right team. People will inevitably have issues with the new software. Who on your team is going to be the point person for troubleshooting?
To streamline onboarding, start with a mix of some trusted senior managers and more hands-on personnel — preferably ones that are tech savvy is possible. It’s important to train enough people initially to reach a critical mass of users, so that your new technology doesn’t seems like anyone’s pet project.
Early adopters can become power users of your new tools and technologies, answering their colleague’s questions and helping everyone’s skill level grow over time. They can also become vocal supporters of new technologies, helping hesitant team members understand the value they offer and the inevitability of making the transition.
Attract The Next Generation of Talent
A lot of people simply don’t realize that logistics is a technology-driven field. They may have some vague idea in their minds about how products go from a factory overseas to their doorstep. Beyond that, most people don’t know much more.
Change that and you may inspire some talented young people to join your company. Host educational tours for local high schools, community colleges, and universities to generate interest. Offer internships to students from technical and engineering backgrounds to attract them to the challenges 3PL companies face.
Knowledge gaps can effectively stall out your new tech implementation. While IoT devices are designed to be intuitive, there’s still a learning curve that can present challenges for big, complex organizations — especially 3PL providers. By taking a multi-directional approach to closing knowledge gaps, management can help streamline the transition to an IoT enabled future.