Next-generation Control Towers: what are they & why are they important

Control Tower

Logistics Control Towers are the aggregation points for the actionable data generated by various operational systems across the logistics network. The data sources include the inventory, order and transport management systems, as well as the track and trace systems operated by the various carriers in the network.

These aggregation points, or more accurately ‘platforms’, are constantly receiving updates from across every aspect of the operational spectrum. Event management systems trigger alarms and alerts for anything deviating from the expected process. Ideally, the platform would also be consistently evaluating every new piece of data received and re-evaluating the conclusions and subsequent instructions if the data says so.

Control Towers are not just Track and Trace systems, but carrier Track and Trace systems are critical sources of data for any control tower input. Data generated by applications and sensors functioning across the operational landscape is ingested into the Control Tower. The systems used by supply chain partners should also feed data and information into the platform.

The Covid pandemic has disrupted supply chains and logistics operations across the globe, resulting in the need to quickly identify problems, analyse the impact and redirect flows. Alongside this, the immediate and massive demand for PPE (Protective Personal Equipment) from producers concentrated in Asia had a profound impact on logistics asset availability and costs.

Next-generation Control Towers should be the source of the ‘Single Version of the Truth’ across every aspect of supply chain and logistics operations. Many of the problems in existing operations are due to the variability of data and information provided by the inherent applications. This is because of the lack of context with much of the data held in systems, resulting in duplications or omissions. The results are higher operating costs and potential confusion in responding to issues.

As an example – inventory held across multiple physical locations that is referenced according to different conventions, even when it is the same product. This requires a mechanism to reconcile the different part and reference numbers, to avoid unnecessary reordering, while at the same time increasing potential availability.

An appropriately configured Control Tower should act as a collaborative platform through which management teams can observe and discuss operational situations in a consistent manner as they are all looking at exactly the same information. This prevents confusion and allows for open discussions.

This means the workforce will need to comprise of a large number of technology specialists, business systems analysts, data architects, and systems integration engineers. In many respects, this describes a technology development company rather than a logistics business.

There will also be managers specialising in procurement, supply chain and logistics network design, industrial engineering, etc., all with years of experience gained from working inside large scale logistics operations. For the supply chains, they are managing, they will be constantly evaluating and buying the services of 3PL’s, carriers, forwarders, etc.

The increasing adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, across the operational landscape will result in a massive increase in data points. Sensors will be embedded in almost every box, pallet and container, particularly those related to high value or environmentally constrained shipments. They will all be generating data and thanks to the growing proliferation of 5G networks, have the means to share that data with any system able to capture it.

As all of these systems are connected, each interface presents a point of vulnerability. This is why adherence to robust security standards and vigilance regarding cyber risk must be maintained from the simplest devices to the most complex systems attached to the network.

In short, the implementation of a comprehensive Control Tower strategy will bring major advantages in operational efficiencies, customer service and cost control. There is also the potential for an increased risk in cyber vulnerabilities and increased operating costs if not planned and managed appropriately.

Source: Transport Intelligence, December 10, 2020.

Author: Ken Lyon

SUBSCRIBE TO LOGISTICS BRIEFING:

Get the latest logistics news and high level analysis delivered straight to your inbox:

  • Create a password
  • By clicking submit you consent to creating a Logistics Briefing account