CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 13, 2019
CSCMP Notebook

What is the consumer Internet of Things?

New Hot Topics report from CSCMP outlines the evolution of IoT and advocates for strong standards.

When your refrigerator starts ordering mayonnaise for you, it's pretty obvious that we are witnessing the birth of a exciting new technology. But according to Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development, for the standards organization GS1 US, it's much more than just that. Smart refrigerators, and the wider Internet of Things, represent "a fundamental shift in the way commercial ecosystems interact," according to Nuce. As Nuce points out, for the Internet of Things to work, consumers will have to be comfortable forfeiting autonomy for convenience—and that shift may feel disorienting not just for consumers but also for the brands serving them.

To help companies better navigate this new ecosystem, Nuce has written the most recent Hot Topics report from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) on "The Consumer Internet of Things." The goal of this publication is to provide readers with a basic definition and understanding of this emerging technology and paint a picture of where it might be headed.

According to Nuce, the consumer Internet of Things encompasses "a variety of integrated interfaces between people and things—including sensory inputs from the consumer and also technologies communicating with each other that are invisible to the consumer." It involves a number of related technologies—such as smart devices, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, voice assistants, and automated sensors—working together to solve a consumer or business challenge.

Companies have readily embraced the IoT in recent years, and the research organization Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be almost 21 billion connected devices. However, the science-fiction dreams spawned by these connected devices depend on something that on the surface seems very mundane and tedious: standards and unique product identifiers. "Everything connected will require a unique identify that spans both the physical and digital domains," Nuce explains. Without some sort of industry-driven, consensus-based standards, the IoT will lack interoperability and not create the streamlined processes that it needs to thrive, asserts Nuce.

Nuce argues this connection and item-level serialization can successfully be based on the GS1 System of Standards. This system is based on standards that companies are already familiar with, such as Universal Product Code (UPC) numbers and Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs). Nuce paints a picture of the future where this digital meta-data will be able to communicate information such as the product's date, time, and location of production; ownership and repair history; certificates for fair trade; and instructions on how to return or dispose of the product.

The Hot Topics report can be ordered here. The report is free for CSCMP members, US $20 for nonmembers.

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