Worldwide supply chains are being revolutionized by ideas like “The New Silk Road”, which is intended to connect China to the Middle East and Europe by land and facilitate shipping by rail and truck. The New Silk Road will link China to the Middle East and Europe by intermodal rail and road and will be able to achieve 16- to 18-day transport time over land compared with 40 to 45 days of transit presently required for sea freight. However, the New Silk Road’s route also traverses harsh terrain and severe weather as it winds through portions of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany. Temperatures can reach minus 40 degrees centigrade in the winter—an unacceptable level for perishable goods that can range from foods to notebook computers.

“If you talk this type of transportation, telematics is one of the most important requirements,” said Jan Koolen, managing director of Unit 45, an intermodal transport company. 

With telematics, logistics companies can monitor temperatures inside of containers, detect needs for engine and other truck/rail maintenance so the right technicians and parts can be dispatched to effect a repair at the next stop, and so on.

But those managing and dispatching these technicians also have to know where the problem is.

This is where geospatial technology comes in.

There are several use cases that illustrate how geospatial technology makes new inroads into supply chain accountability and performance.

For example, if a shipment of strawberries is picked and loaded onto a truck at a farm, taken to a warehouse, and it then sits unattended in the warehouse for several days, the fruit will be adversely affected and spoil faster. With geospatial tracking, a retailer that has ordered those strawberries can determine exactly where the supply chain breakdown or delay occurred and who is accountable for a shipment of strawberries that arrives in less-than-perfect condition.

Use case two: If an eastbound truck full of lettuce is headed to Atlanta in the sweltering July heat and sensors suddenly detect a failure in on-truck refrigeration, the sensors can send an alert back to headquarters. Headquarters, by using geospatial technology, can see where the truck is on its route, and the route can be re-planned so the truck delivers in more proximate destination instead of Atlanta.

Use case three: By using a combination of geospatial technology and analytics, companies can assess where the riskiest points are in their supply chains, whether risk is due to poor weather, political unrest, or other causes. The analytics can also identify mission-critical suppliers in these affected areas so companies have time to re-plan their supply chains to avoid as much risk as possible.

In all of these cases, the ability to use present and future analytics and risk assessment is improving supply chain performance and reducing risk. One of the fundamental vectors of being able to perform these analytics and assessments is geospatial technology.

What are the takeaways for geospatial professionals?

#1 Geospatial technology is for everyone. 
You don’t have to be a GIS specialist or surveyor to use geospatial skills on the job. More and more companies are expanding their use of geospatial skills and analytics.

#2 Geospatial technology is a central element in today’s supply chains. 
Companies with exceptionally complicated supply chains are among the front runners when it comes to employing persons with geospatial skills. Companies value geospatial analytics when it comes to goods tracking and tracing through the supply chain. They also use geospatial analytics in supply chain present and future (predictive) risk assessments.

#3 Organizations need people with business savvy and well-honed geospatial skills.
Companies are looking for people who can “think outside of the box” and apply  geospatial analysis to new problems and use cases. These are GIS-savvy individuals who not only know GIS but also know how to apply it to tough business cases.