Asset Tracking and Supply Chain Visibility - Where Do They Meet?

Rob Stevens
Rob Stevens

 Depending on who you ask, Tive is either an asset tracking company or a supply chain visibility company, or something in between.   Both of those terms have a bit of baggage, so we thought we’d take this blog post to help each of them unpack their bags and sort through their belongings.  

We’re Creating Sensor-Driven Supply Chain Visibility

At Tive, we consider ourselves primarily a supply chain visibility company.  While there are other supply chain visibility companies out there, we believe that they all have a blind spot - the location and condition of goods in transit.  We’re building a sensor-driven supply chain visibility company that will complement those systems, (which do a nice job tracking what’s on the books and in the building) with real-world data about the inventory that’s out roaming around the world on ships and trucks and airplanes.  

It’s the “sensor” part of that description that get people confused, unfortunately.  “Oh, so you’re an asset tracking company?,” they ask.  No, not really.  And that’s the heart of the confusion. 

What’s an Asset, Really?

Is inventory on a truck an “asset”?  Technically I think the answer is yes, if I remember my accounting classes properly.  But it’s not an asset in the way that most businesses think about assets like trucks or buildings or equipment.  “Asset tracking” implies a permanence, a “fixedness”.   The people who worry about “assets” are the accounting folks, or maybe even just the auditors (a highly specialized breed of accounting folks).  “Assets” don’t generally spring in and out of existence.

You know what does spring in and out of existence?  Inventory.  One day you have 0 widgets, the next day you have 10,000, a week later you integrate those widgets with the gizmos and they are gone.  Inventory ebbs and flows, comes and goes.  Hence the need for “visibility” so you can see where the inventory actually is right now.

On the other hand, asset tracking companies have been built on the idea that they need to keep an eye on one thing, be it a bulldozer or a PC or even a high-value shipment.  Eventually that item will be replaced (or delivered) and you can stop worrying about it, but until then, make sure we know where it is.  This mindset works well for things that live simple lives (like bulldozers) but not when the item is moving around and hopping from plant to truck to warehouse to ship.  In those cases you need a supply chain mindset, which means thinking about things like weather (will the plane be delayed?), congestion (has the container left the port yet or is it stuck in a line?), and even analysis (where in this transportation chain is damage most likely to occur?).  These are topics not usually covered by “asset tracking”.

Bringing Two Ideas Together

At Tive we’re trying to bring two these two ideas together in a new approach, marrying some of the technical tools of asset tracking (sensors, communications) with the mindset (and software) of supply chain visibility.  Supply chains are not getting any simpler, customers are not getting any less demanding.  But sensors are getting better, communications is getting more ubiquitous, and cloud computing is making it easier to tie everything together, so we feel like the wind is at our back.  We’re optimistic that over the next few years the relatively new idea of using sensors to track the supply chain will make more and more sense.


Topics: Supply Chain Visibility, Supply Chain Trackers

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