Reusable Asset Tracking Technologies Panel: It Takes a Village

“I thought I knew a lot about all the technology that was available and how it worked. But it (the white paper) clearly points out to me that right now…the technology is there. It’s working, it’s available. It’s now how do you use it in your product lines, and what is your ultimate goal with it.” 

Dave Kalan, Paxxal 

 

The future is at hand for affordable, effective tracking of pallets and other reusable packaging assets, according to participants of an expert panel at PACK EXPO Las Vegas. The session, Asset Technologies for Reusable Packaging, included: Shawn Stockman, Director of BusinessSolutions at ReturnCenter, who moderated; as well as Ernest Wood, Operations Manager at C2it; David Kalan, Vice President at Paxxal; and Gail Peter Wong, Product Manager at AT&T IoT.

For Wood, his biggest takeaway from the recently released RPA asset tracking technology white paper was the importance of involving all of the key stakeholders and mapping out a plan “before you start investing and then looking forward to seeing what are the unintended consequences of what you’re trying to do with it.”

Kalan remarked that he was enthusiastic about the availability of tracking technologies, as well as their potential for opportunities such as artificial intelligence. “So that was my big walk away from this paper,” he said. “Wow, it’s (tracking technology) here and it’s here now.”

“…From the very beginning, I naively thought that at the end of the day, we could put together a little decision tree about how do I decide which of these technologies to use,” added Stockman. After months of conversations and research, he came to realize that the process wasn’t linear. Various tracking technologies exist which overlap in their capabilities, as the white paper outlines. 

One key trend that Stockman sees is the growing understanding of the value that data can deliver value for a range of organizational functions. “Oftentimes, the same data point will mean something very different to every different part of an organization,” he said. The inventory control function is focused on avoiding asset loss, while marketing is trying to better understand consumer behavior. The importance of data generation and analysis is becoming more widely understood.

“For me, the IoT connectivity from data capturing device to the software that allows the user to apply it is a huge trend that I think it’s going to really affect every industry associated with reusable packaging,” he added.

IoT tracking, in combination with a blockchain solution, for example, can result in verified inventory and temperature control, Wong said. It also offers the potential for immediate payment and reduced transaction costs. He noted that users aren’t all that interested in the type of technology that’s under the hood. They are just interested in the results. 

Many cost reduction opportunities come from IoT in areas that might not be top of mind, such as staffing. Wong touched on the potential of IoT to help solve the driver shortage by enabling them to be more productive at each stop, and perhaps skip stops, depending upon retail inventory. For example, rather than coming into a store, checking stock levels and then going back to the truck, having accurate stock levels would enable the driver to eliminate that aspect of the job. 

Stockman asked the experts what steps they would recommend in choosing the best type of technology to fit their needs. From his perspective, finding a problem and building a business case to quantify the costs and benefits are critical to the path forward. 

Wood shared C2it’s “Sprint, Walk, Crawl” metaphor. “When you’re looking at a new project, we like to sprint to the easiest win we can get to have the biggest impact,” he explained. “So what’s something simple that we can do that’s going to impact and show the technology and get you in the door. After we sprint to that, we’re going to walk to the next slightly more complicated project where we’re going to expand on the technology. And then the “crawl” aspect is after you’ve done the first two…, now …you can work with the more complicated projects.” As confidence grows, the organization is more willing to get behind more complex initiatives.

One of the easy wins, according to Kalan, will come from utilizing tracking to help reduce asset loss rates. It can provide a very quick ROI, he said. With IoT it is a very simple process that does not require infrastructure to get up and running with a pilot program.

In choosing the best path forward, Wong recommended having diverse representation in ideation sessions, because a lot of areas within an organization stand to benefit, and help create a more realistic snapshot of ROI. For example, HR will benefit from decreased employee turnover associated with improved driver experience and productivity, while other functions such as sales, logistics and inventory control all stand to benefit from a successful program. “It takes a village,” he said.