Securely connecting the supply chain

6th Apr 2017

The tech revolution has seen the retail industry reap the rewards of a more connected, more autonomous and more transparent supply chain. Whether looking at front-of-house security, store back-end management or transport logistics, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way that retailers operate.  

Security procedures in the supply chain are increasingly benefitting from IP-enabled devices, which look to provide security teams with a 360-degree view into each vehicle and each stage of the process. A connected CCTV system, for example, can enable a single control team to monitor thousands of active packages at one time, while on-board analytics capabilities provide real-time updates to help teams make sense of the data they are receiving.

With connected cameras and sensors, transport networks no longer need to rely on manual inventory checks at the start and end of the journey. Central control units can have direct insight at any time, making it easier to detect break-ins or security breaches as they happen. Take retail warehouses as an example. RFID tags on individual pallet loads can be linked to camera systems to help security teams pinpoint the exact time and place of a theft in a large manufacturing warehouse, speeding up response times and increasing the chances of stopping and catching the intruder. Another tactic which can be useful when dealing with temperature-sensitive payloads is distributing sensors throughout the building which can be linked to the access system. These will then alert staff if opened doors begin to cause a dangerous drop in temperature.

There are numerous possibilities, and they are not limited to static storage either. Once packages are on the move, supply chain companies can connect monitoring systems of all kinds through a single control unit. This will enable them to create an automated network capable of feeding pertinent information to the right member of staff at the right time. For example, RFID tagging can provide companies with round-the-clock location data which has two major benefits. First, the improvement in customer service levels - being able to inform customers of package whereabouts will be a key differentiator in the market, particularly as shipment tracking in the consumer sector gets even more sophisticated. Secondly, from a security perspective, the ability to track packages to a fine degree of accuracy brings obvious benefits - not only deterring potential thieves but also helping with recovery and prosecution.

One of the challenges with IP-enabled security devices, is that they are quickly becoming a favourite target for hackers. And although an effective connected security network can be a powerful defence against damage and theft, cyber attackers accessing frontline systems via poorly defended connected devices can cause just as much damage to the supply chain as a physical trespass.

Understanding how digital security is built into connected devices and existing network security systems will enable the retailer to identify and address important security needs. When security is not a consideration from the start of the process, it can result in a product that becomes impossible to secure at deployment. As part of that, it’s important to have an integrated view across all the organisation’s data points, end-to-end across the whole supply chain. Retailers need to have an understanding of what information is passing through which channels, only then, can they avoid leaving sections of their supply chain open to vulnerabilities.

While there is plenty of opportunity that comes with new connected technologies, in order to fully reap the rewards of these new capabilities, retailers need to embrace a security-first approach. Those companies that get ahead of the curve will come out as winners. As such, it’s essential that retailers embrace an integrated supply chain and make the most of what connectivity has to offer - or risk being left behind.

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