How IoT is shaping big data to transform the cold chain



The opportunities for The Internet of Things (IoT) in leading digital transformations in supply chains isn’t new. More than 34 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, and asset tracking solutions could have an impact of more than $1.9 trillion in the supply chain and logistics sector. IoT is already here and businesses are leveraging the technology to answer key questions such as: “Where is my product shipment, and when will it arrive?” and “Are my temperature-sensitive assets at risk?”

Companies can leverage big data analytics that IoT connectivity provides to increase visibility and transparency across the cold chain, allowing for deeper, prescriptive insights that lead to a decrease in risk of damage and waste, thereby generating more effective operational results and revenue potential.

Until recently, IoT has been a passive component of global cold chains

From the viewpoint of a manufacturer or distributor of temperature-sensitive assets, the cold chain is comprised of the warehouses and routes to the production line, and the land, sea, and air routes between the warehouse, suppliers, customers, and end-users. In today’s complex, time-sensitive environment, key challenges include how to trace and track products as they move through the supply chain and how to ensure that perishable food, pharmaceutical, medical, and other perishable items maintain quality en route.

IoT technologies increasingly are being deployed to solve the modern challenges faced in the supply chain. IoT, which includes embedded sensor technologies to facilitate the digitization of supply chain, offers businesses with increasing opportunities, including digital business planning, digital response and supply, logistics, and supply chain collaboration through data-driven insights, which enable real-time intervention through real-time analytics and insights, if connected to a scalable platform.

IoT facilitates smart manufacturing to meet customer and consumer demand, enhanced facilities and warehousing management, control over land, air, and sea, and loss prevention in the perishable food and pharmaceutical supply chain, and can ultimately drive greater efficiency, profitability, and return on investment.

Previous generations of passive sensor technologies have provided businesses with only ad hoc visibility over the condition of goods, and fanned out the supply chain to single shipments and individual end users. Apart from obtaining customer feedback only after delivery to the customer, businesses have, until recently, had a limited ability to generate improved customer experiences and satisfaction. What is new to IoT in the cold chain is ability to leverage the technology and help those businesses run a lean, real-time supply chain, linking people, processes, and things, and meeting rising customer expectations to open and enhance new revenue streams.

A newer, integrated approach

Recent IoT technology not only provides for greater transparency across supply chain networks, but actively enables businesses and cold chain logistics partners to control the external environment and execute decisions in real-time, preventing damage and waste before it occurs. With IoT, hardware loggers can not only communicate data about parameters, such as temperature and location, but can help change process workflows to optimize performance and optimize performance. Software connecting to real-time IoT technology helps businesses to better manage partner and customer relationships more effectively, generate better performance metrics and profiles, including data to understand financial, risk, or performance metrics through real-time and prescriptive analytics.

These new technological advancements drive incremental benefits to existing supply chain processes, spanning warehouse space optimization and time-to-delivery, but IoT can also generate new opportunities to fully redesign existing cold chain management through every step of the process. For this reason, IoT is set to transform the global cold chain.

Improving operational efficiencies

In today’s economy, efficient cold chain management isn’t simply a way to keep track of temperature-sensitive assets; rather it’s a way to gain an edge over competitors and build and protect your business’ brand. Here are the ways that IoT can improve operational efficiencies in the cold chain:

Real-Time Asset Management

Manual, ad hoc scanning and bar codes used to be the standard way of tracking temperature-sensitive assets throughout the cold chain. Now, GPS sensors are able to track goods from manufacture through last-mile delivery. At any point, manufacturers can use these wireless, remote sensors to gain granular, real-time data, including environmental conditions or how long a shipment was spent in cargo or customs. With this information, businesses can take immediate action if something goes awry. This visibility gives them better control over their assets through every step of their journey.

Improved Customer Service and Relationships

The data obtained through IoT sensor-powered asset tracking is important because it enables businesses to optimize their production and distribution schedules, and identify sub-par vendor and partner relationships that may be costing them money. According to IBM, up to 65% of the value of a company’s products or services is derived from its suppliers. That reality provides a substantial incentive to pay closer attention to how your suppliers are handling the assets they are sending you, and how partners handle your products once they are ready for distribution. Higher quality goods mean optimal relationships with customers — which, in turn, typically translates to better customer retention overall.

Accurate Forecasting and Inventory

Wireless IoT sensor hardware facilitates more accurate tracking with less overhead than humans can manage alone. Whereas standard cold chain technology has been passive and ad hoc, requiring manual device removal and scanning at critical checkpoints, wireless, automated tracking significantly reduces the possibility of human error. Previously, if a device missed a scan at a checkpoint, that data could be lost, leading to uncertainty about product conditions, a broken audit trail, or worse, liability due to damaged or wasted goods. Now, IoT technology enables businesses to track inventory at the click of a button. Shipment deadlines may never be missed again. Product loss can be actively prevented. And, all that data can be used to uncover trends to make distribution even more efficient.

Risk Management

The combination of IoT and data aggregation within a single platform provides significant opportunities to generate prescriptive analytics for more accurate forecasting and risk management. For instance, a truck shipping produce from California to Florida may be exposed to greater risk if driving through the Mojave Desert due to excessive heat and other travel conditions, which may be greater during a particular time of the year. Data intelligence is the key component that pulls exposure risks together, enabling businesses to make better decisions.

Connected Stakeholders and Networks

As the cold chain continues to grow upward and outward with increasing customer demand — for food and pharmaceuticals — it’s even more imperative to ensure that all carriers — whether that be air cargo, shipping containers, suppliers’ delivery trucks, or a business’s own vehicles out for delivery — remain connected. Rich, real-time data is key for cold chain collaboration, and businesses increasingly are turning to it to deliver better products to their customers, faster. The centralized sharing of data across networks can be leveraged for the befefit of all stakeholders involved.

New revenue potential

Ninety percent of companies say that agility and speed are important or very important to their business (SCM World). Embedding big data analytics in cold chain operations can have an impact on a business’s reaction time to issues (an estimated 41 percent) and can lead to a 4.25x improvement in order-to-cycle delivery times, according to Accenture. Connecting IoT and software together generates significant opportunities for the automation of data, leading to greater profitability and ROI.

The chance to know, and understand, more about shipments and excursions, and the trends associated with them, is invaluable. It enables businesses to develop tighter relationships with customers and logistics partners, and provides new ways to market to them in creative ways. Beyond the use of data for improved operational logistics and efficiencies.

While many businesses have already begun to reform their cold chain processes, many are still embracing the concept of wireless devices and mobility, and data shows there is substantial room for improvement. An estimated $35 billion worth of temperature-sensitive assets continue to be spoiled each year due to breakdowns in the supply chain. For IoT to be transformative and effective, all stakeholders across the cold chain must be connected.


Businesses have a vested interest in improving the quality of their products and their customers’ experiences; these factors drive brand loyalty as well as profitability. By adding newer IoT capabilities to their cold chain to track, manage, and improve their supply chain logistics, companies can ensure that customers receive timely delivery of the right product in fresh and quality condition. Ongoing monitoring and feedback after delivery will give stakeholders deeper insights with their products and transactions and through connected data, see how existing supply chain processes can be improved, and how their business can sustain itself in the future.

Controlant’s cold chain monitoring solutions connect supply chain stakeholders, improve operational efficiency, and drive profitability for businesses in the food, pharmaceutical, and cold chain logistics sectors. To learn more or to try a pilot, contact us at