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Getting started with integrating supply chain management (SCM) and global positioning system (GPS) s

Manufacturers can integrate their supply chain management (SCM) with a global positioning system (GPS) to gain access to enhanced tracking data. SCM GPS integration usually starts with logistics services.

Though consumers are still the biggest users of global positioning system (GPS) technology, today GPS is also crucial to many businesses, especially those involved with supply chain management (SCM) logistics. Starting an SCM GPS integration project is another matter.

The reason, said Greg Aimi, a research director with AMR Research, is because GPS is most widely used in business for tracking things rather than for navigation. "It is great for tracking anything that moves," he said, adding that just because GPS can track things doesn't mean it is ideal for tying into SCM. Barriers of cost and complexity have prevented that from happening. Consequently, supply chain GPS has remained the domain of logistics firms while manufacturers and retailers mostly work with GPS indirectly.

Still, carriers who have invested in GPS can choose to open up their tracking data at a level of granularity that can benefit their customers in the manufacturing sector. The information available through GPS, in turn, can help manufacturers better understand the exact location of their shipments and provide visibility into delivery schedules. "That would be especially critical for just-in-time operations," said Aimi.

Today, the business deployment of GPS is confined mostly to shipments by truck but the technology could be extended to containers and railroad cars, or made more granular by applying it down to the pallet level, Aimi said. In every case, though, the bigger picture is about tracking -- and GPS is just one component of that. "Within a facility you might depend on RFID but if you want to extend those capabilities to a longer range as part of a real time location service (RTLS) you would need to depend on GPS or a tie in to a terrestrial cell phone network," said Aimi.

According to Aimi, GPS capability could be used to enhance things like the industry-wide exchange of beer kegs that exists among brewer in the UK or the worldwide Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool (CHEP) pallet and container exchange service.

For now, manufacturers are likely to find that logistics services -- your shipping company -- may be the best connection point for integrating GPS data into SCM systems. In the future, networks may end up more integrated with GPS capability, making it that much easier to leverage more locational data.

About the author: Alan Earls had his first exposure to computer programming on one of Digital Equipment Corp.'s PDP-8 minicomputers. He went on to serve as editor of the newspaper Mass High Tech and is the author of the book Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech, a photographic essay on a key part of Massachusetts economic history. He currently is a freelance writer, covering many aspects of IT technology and writing regularly for

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