Case in Point: Real Insights from an IoT Pilot in a Distribution Center

Case in Point: Real Insights from an IoT Pilot in a Distribution Center

It’s one thing to rave about the benefits that IoT will deliver to a distribution center, but it’s another to get a look at how it really adds value and provides actionable insights. Let’s take a look at one experience I had recently.

Recently, I was at a prospect site for a pilot demonstrating our technology. Typically, we show up at the client site Monday morning and get things up and running in an hour. We connect our devices to the WIFI network, then to the Warehouse Management System (WMS). We put the devices in the hands of users, get them oriented with a mini training system and they start using them.

We stay at the location all week, to make sure they can work through any obstacles and test the devices in as many scenarios and with as many users as possible. We try to go across different departments and user demographics as possible.  We gather feedback and at the end of each day we run through some important questions (one’s I recommend to any organization evaluating new IoT technology):

  1. How easy is this technology to use?
  2. How well are younger millennial work force getting used to this technology?
  3. How will are the older veteran work force getting used to this new technology?
  4. What type of productivity improvements are they getting from this new technology?
  5. Compared to the existing technology, what are the benefits with this new IoT-enabled technology?
  6. Are there any measurable productivity improvements achieved this week using the technology?
  7. Have we identified any opportunities for improvement while using this technology?
  8. Have we gotten any extra visibility to new aspects of the business from using this technology?
  9. How reliable are these devices?
  10. How rugged are these devices?
  11. How well will these devices withstand typical warehouse use?
  12. How long do the batteries last?
  13. How often do users have to charge or change batteries?
  14. How much time are current users are spending changing batteries?

We have daily meetings to make sure the pilot is achieving its goals. We address roadblocks and ensure the devices are tested in all areas. We want to ensure that the company has a statistically meaningful sample to help them evaluate whether the technology is right for their organization. This pilot is equally important for us as a vendor because we want to ensure that we will be able to support the client in the long run, through a good understanding of the infrastructure, the users, the processes, and the associated system.

In the best moments, both parties gather new and never seen before insights. For example, during one of our tests, we saw WiFi connection drops as soon as we turned on our devices. We did what we usually did to address drops: we added a static IP address. That fixed the problem. They learned a good trick that increased their productivity, while we got better insight into a common issue and brought the learning to other pilots.

Every pilot is a learning experience. At another client, we connected our devices to a Labor Management System (LMS). The client got immediate data on units picked, boxes palletized, and lines picked.  It provided deep visibility. The client was excited to see the potential for proactively collecting real-time labor performance data. It was incredibly efficient. Then we saw a glitch: it appeared that the operators were constantly exiting the system while using the palletizing function.  We dug deeper and found that the operators were leaving the function in order to use another function to check if they had scanned the cartons correctly. It was a training issue, because the palletizing function could give them the same data. The palletizing function was built with all validations, checks, and balances. By changing the standard operating procedure of the workers, they were able to speed palletization and unclog shipping lanes.

What types of IoT deployments have you done in your distribution center? What type of insights have you gleaned from the data you collected? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Originally published at on Oct 1, 2018.

Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. SG LoadProof is a patent pending Centralized Enterprise Photo/Video Document System on Cloud for Supply Chain. SG LP is built on the fact that photos & videos are vital docs as important as POs/SOs/Legal Contracts/Fulfillment Orders that reside in ERP/WMS/TMS systems, that serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal proof of crucial, critical, vital operations executed in Supply Chain within/across orgs when fulfilling customer orders as well as meeting contractual obligations between orgs as merchandise is transferred between different parties that partake in Supply Chain functions & operations. And these photos/videos data should not be stored in someone’s Smartphone or Email Inbox or in their personal/work Computer, but should be stored in a Centralized Enterprise system, where such data can be pushed into super-fast, stored securely, accessible to all stake holders (CFO/Sales Reps/Customer Support/AR/AP) in an org, as well as facilitates super-fast retrieval/sharing. LP is an Enterprise System of record for Photo/Video docs & is as important as an ERP which is an enterprise system of record for POs, SOs, Legal Contracts between parties etc. that have huge legal ramifications, also as important as a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that hold indispensable shipment & fulfillment data on orders. Like how Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. have evolved into social media platforms/systems that enable individuals to showcase their beauty/pretty clothes/lovely cosmetics/hep coolness etc., LoadProof is an Enterprise system that holds similar photos/videos, but for a different reason, not for show off, but to serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal & indisputable system of record and proof that can be presented even in the court of law, when there is a dispute between parties while they execute many facets of the Supply Chain functions & operations. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 25 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit the company at Also follow him at