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IoTurkeys and Bobbing for Digital Apples

Matt Torman
The industrialization of the Internet of Things (IoT) is leading to a data explosion that starts at the farm and ripples outward all the way to the final point of sale.

Since 1989, during the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation a presidential pardon is granted to a lucky bird or two. The young tradition, with its earliest roots going back to Truman era in the late 1940s, is now a fixture of the American holiday and a mainstay festive spot in the news cycle year after year. Still, custom dictates that much of the national flightless flock — somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million — will get gobbled up as part of the collective holiday spread.

That’s 50 million turkeys, each worth around $17 in terms of direct industry revenue, but those birds drive an estimated $2.8 billion overall in food spending on a single meal.  That’s 50 million birds – fresh or frozen –  that need to move from the farm to one of around 64,000 major supermarkets and grocery stores, so they can finally get to 50 million kitchens a day or two ahead of the holiday.

My most memorable meal is every Thanksgiving.
— Douglas Conant

Retailers start planning ahead. They put in orders for their Thanksgiving bounty, often hundreds if not thousands of birds per store, up to six months in advance. Food product suppliers respond by contracting turkey growers from the world’s largest production facilities down to single-family farms, making sure the expected demand can and will be met.

The result is that 50 million turkeys are raised, plucked, packaged, packed, frozen, stored, shipped, stocked, shelved, and eventually sold. That’s a lot of steps in a complex process designed to ensure that anyone who wants to can eat turkey on Turkey Day. Successful delivery requires the precise interaction of man, machine, and technology. As Sun Tsu said, “The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” And today, the key to increasing the efficacy of the turkey supply chain is how businesses are handling data.

For every turkey that’s on the move in one direction through the supply chain, electronic data is moving back and forth between companies (and certainly within each enterprise as well). From drivers to data, from EDI integration to Aunt Edna’s kitchen, from long- and short-haul truck tires to the tireless effort of IT personnel responsible for backend business systems and frontend applications – commerce, goods, and information are all tightly intertwined, and every action along the supply chain has an automated digital representation in the form of a dataf low.

Most turkeys taste better the day after, my mother’s tasted better the day before.
— Rita Rudner

Thus, the availability of turkey leading up to the holiday hinges on an extraordinarily complex orchestration where we see a balance struck between the economics of moving goods and the reliability of business data. But this balance is precarious. And, everything, absolutely everything has to go right – right in a space where virtually anything can go wrong. In other words, it’s really difficult and in the very near future, it’s only going to get harder.

The IoTurkey Supply Chain

For a long time, information flows across the supply chain boiled down to standardized or structured data – the sending and receiving of B2B files and EDI. However, further mechanization and an explosion of new sources of unstructured digital data are increasing the challenge of securely and reliably integrating information into systems and moving distributed data across the supply chain network of networks. Basically, all this is pointing to the fact that getting tomorrow’s turkey to the end customer is bound to be a far more data-centric process.

The industrialization of the Internet of Things is leading to a data explosion that starts at the farm and ripples outward all the way to the final point of sale. And the importance of not only producing but incorporating future-oriented data assets is the possibility of finally increasing logistical efficacy across the entire supply chain – from the earliest point of production until the product is finally in the hands of the consumer.

Production:

  • Wireless digital sensory network to monitor and calibrate temperature, humidity, ventilation, automate egg turning, and hatchery and enclosure sanitation

Processing:

  • Real-time event monitoring
  • Multi-plant production system performance based on forecast demand
  • Product output measurement and down-the-line tracking through digital tagging during early processing

Distribution:

  • Enhanced visibility from docks and warehouses to entire fleets en route between major and tertiary distribution centers all the way to final delivery destinations
  • Identity and location tracking to predict deliverability windows through onboard tracking and in-time shipping optimizations

Retail:

  • Instantaneous insight through combined views of inventory and point of sale data to prevent stock outages/overages and to optimize in-store pricing based on incumbent demand and supply
  • Increased avenues for e-commerce purchases in addition to traditional brick-and-mortar outlets – mobile and website-based shopping to get Thanksgiving.

I have had a holiday, and I’d like to take it up professionally.
— Kylie Minogue

Will some companies doing business along this dominantly technical version of the supply chain struggle? Of course. These new sources of data point to entirely new points of data generation – the connected machine and machine-like things in the Internet of Things.

Current Tech – New Capabilities

Organizations will need to account for new capabilities that are required in order to handle the striking volumes of data coming from multiple new generation points in the IoT ecosystem. However, much of the IoT heavy lifting can be done by some middleware available today. Managed file transfer solutions, for example, often provide the capability to rapidly add multiple new technology connectors and enable multiple communications protocols straight out of the box. Meaning it will be easier to incorporate IoT devices into existing systems and business networks.

Fundamentally, the IoT supply chain and data handling come down to an adequate capability for systems and infrastructure to quickly move not just large and small files – think EDI –  but to rapidly ingest aggregate data sets for use in analytics – think big data. Still, even without the added complexity of future technology data points, the reality at the moment means a lot of companies are just bobbing for digital apples.

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.
— W.J. Cameron

Consistency is essential. Organizations need to build the infrastructure to securely and reliably move and effectively integrate current data flows, provide the critical insight necessary to compete, and ready the business for virtually infinite points of data generation just around the corner.

In the highly mechanized farm-to-table logistics operations, it is through better means of moving and integrating the data of today and tomorrow that companies can not only seek to improve but actually optimize supply chain efficacy threefold:

  • To operate at the lowest possible cost
  • To driving greater reliability in the delivery of products to store shelves
  • To provide the best possible service to customers

Here’s wishing your Black Friday injuries aren’t so severe that you can’t click a mouse on Cyber Monday.
— Unknown

And all of this turkey transit is just a ripple in the massive spend during this holiday week, which includes billions of additional transactions that make the football, flights, floats, and – oh yeah – Cyber Monday possible. But that’s a story for another time. In other words, on Thanksgiving, turkey will be produced, packed, shipped, and stocked in the physical world, but its quality will be a wholly digital representation in the IoT realm.

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