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It’s rare that I decry EDI, but I encourage a serious look into how and if this bastion of trade is keeping up with the needs of commerce and incorporating the most appropriate technologies. Here’s a look at what might be a shortcoming that needs to be addressed.

Logistics has for long lagged in the use of technology in operations. It still employs old methods such as the Electronic Data Interchange which create bottlenecks. As such, gaining real-time information and insights on cargo in transit is a challenge. In fact, instead of EDI offering insights required in this industry, it prevents clarity. In some instances, EDI messages give wrong information. For example, they may in some instances alert that load has been dropped off when the truck might not have even arrived.

In highly regulated industries such as the supply chain of pharmaceuticals where high standards and temperatures need to be maintained during transportation, EDI presents a challenge. In such a scenario, a slight difference between the time that the vehicle is supposed to pick up or drop off the cargo could spell a disaster. Therefore, regulations in such industry must be strictly followed. This entails having a correct and clear view of not only the operational processes but also how each piece of these processes affects the others. For instance, in pharmaceutical manufacturing, the end product is determined by the accuracy in the supply of ingredients and adherence to quality standards such as maintaining the correct humidity. With this sensitivity, lack of proper tracking can lead to delays while in transit which, in the end may subject the cargo to theft or fraud. The only way this can be attained is by making sure that there is end-to-end visibility.

Although there is never a one-stop solution to all problems in the logistics sector, the best solution can be found in a mix of modern technologies such as the use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain. Blockchain may offer solutions that enable end-to-end visibility. Through its decentralized ledger, it can be used to trace movements of products in the cold supply chain from the manufacturer to the supplier and then to the consumer. On the other hand, IoT sensors can significantly ease the tracking of shipment. The sensors can read the GPS location of the cargo which allows monitoring of the exact whereabouts at a specific time. The advantage of using IoT and blockchain is that it suffers from no human intervention or latency and includes definitive time-stamps that makes it easy to understand what activity took place at what time. For instance, the availability of an environmental IoT sensor allows you to know the conditions of the cargo at a given time. It eases end-to-end tracking and offers endless opportunities in the safety of the shipment. In the end, products that require strict adherence to certain conditions while in transit or in storage have a lesser chance of getting spoiled and destroyed.

EDI by itself lacks geofencing capabilities that can be used to identify the condition of trucks transporting consignment. As such, sensitive items which require refrigeration at a particular temperature may be rendered unfit for use or consumption if trucks or refrigerators get damaged. However, with AI, blockchain and IoT, the condition of the refrigeration equipment can be checked and cargo taken to the nearest warehouse with proper conditions to avoid damages. This not only saves money but also ensures security of cargo and saves time.

Based on the sensitivity of the cold supply chain and the competitiveness in the market, logistics companies need to evaluate their capabilities and the capabilities of the technologies they are using, and look at additional or different ways to augment and enhance their services.

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