The Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning that “$17 billion logistics giant Brambles” was aiming to “become a big player in the Internet of Things”. Indeed it is, and not just to streamline its own operations but to significant expand its business. It’s a great example of how a company that has been in a traditional business for years can, and should exploit IoT.
Brambles is in a great position to do this, because it has lots of things that carry its customers’ wares all over the world. According to the SMH, Brambles has more than 500 million pallets, containers and produce crates in its global network through its CHEP and IFCO brands that it uses to transport goods around the world for customers including Nestle, Unilever, Wal-Mart, Tesco, and for Coles and Woolworths in Australia.
Today those are 500 million dumb things. If they can be fitted with some means of tracking their location, and providing information about their environment, such as temperature, that information could be enormously valuable.
That’s going to be quite a challenge. Brambles probably never sees these most of these things for years on end as they criss-cross the globe, and they spend much of their time inside steel shipping containers that make excellent blockers of radio signals.
But that’s not where Brambles is putting its focus. That focus is firmly on extracting value from the data those things will generate. The SMH quoted Brambles CEO, Tom Gorman, saying that outside expertise would be used to find the best way to embed sensors and other devices into those 500 million pallets etc.
Silicon Valley: where big data is happening
What Brambles is doing is setting up a data analytics subsidiary, BXB Digital, located not at its HQ in Sydney but in Silicon Valley, because, according to Gorman, “in terms of big data analysis, that’s where it’s all happening.”
And the company has hired some serious big data talent to run the business: Prasad Srinivasamurthy, currently senior vice president, customer innovation & internet of things with software giant SAP. He’s an 18 year veteran with the company who has “had product and innovation responsibilities in data analytics, customer relationship management, supply chain planning and the Internet of Things,” according to a Brambles press release. His most recent role has focused on building digital solutions in areas including connected retail, consumer insights and energy.
The moral of this story is clear. While it might be technically challenging and very costly to IoT enable a large asset pool, doing so is not strategic: it’s what you do with all the data you get that counts.