‘An In-Depth Study of the Bathroom’: IoT and the reverse supply chain

CoDE has contributed to a significant study on ‘Operationalising IoT for reverse supply: the development of use-visibility measures’ in the international journal Supply Chain Management.

Funding was contributed by the Research Council (UK) Digital Economy to the H.A.T project (http://hubofallthings.org), and by the Academy of Finland. The study uses an explorative case approach drawing on data from studies of six UK households. The quantitative data are generated using wireless sensors in the home, and qualitative data are drawn from online calendars, social media, interviews and ethnography. The project is based on an in-depth study of the bathroom, which illustrates the application of use-visibility measures.

Key findings

The Internet of Things (IoT) may be operationalised in the domestic setting to capture data on a consumer’s use of products, which has important implications for reverse supply chains. IoT data captured could significantly affect the efficiency and responsiveness of reverse supply by providing information of use in context, in addition to the real-time data on resource usage rates.

IoT data can thereby help to mitigate long-standing supply chain inefficiencies (caused by distortions in demand signals) such as: excessive inventory; poor customer service; lost revenue; poor use of capacity; inactive and inefficient transportation; and missed production schedules. For example, many toiletries (particularly sunscreen, dandruff products, etc.) now have an expiry date; accurate data on usage will enable better signalling through the supply chain, reducing waste and transportation, lowering costs and reducing landfill.

Managerial Implications

Inefficient reverse supply chains hold significant opportunities for economic and sustainability improvements. The scale of waste in terms of energy, resources, and material packaging invites business to develop smarter reverse supply chains that are able to develop and support longer life products, which for electrical goods alone could be worth £800m per annum. The numbers indicate that even small improvements in reverse supply chains can translate to significant benefits in materials, time and cost savings, benefiting firms, customers and the environment.

IoT in the home provides information on experience. In the case example of the bathroom context, these are towels, toothbrushes, shavers, etc. Experience data have the potential to help manufacturers produce bespoke offers, for example, in this case, towels for those with specific allergies or tooth brushes with specific head shapes and bristle type and alignment.

There are also implications for interaction. For example, in the case study, sensors can detect calcium deposits on water systems and growth of moulds or freezing conditions that may lead to burst pipes. All of this offers the potential for asset manufactures to extend their offerings into service provision.

IoT in the home also offers significant potential outside current business models, as horizontal data give information relating to how consumers use resources in combination, offering greater possibilities to innovate new offers, reducing environmental impact and enabling forward and reverse supply chains able to respond to use in context.

Finally, the rich data from IoT are owned by consumers, and negotiation for access to such data creates the basis for markets both for the raw data and applications which manipulate data for the benefit of consumers and firms.

Application of the data captured by the IoT is still an area of intense speculation; this study can help us comprehend the practical and productive use of consumer data for constructive societal impact.

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at: www.emeraldinsight.com/1359-8546.htm Supply Chain Management: An International Journal 21/2 (2016) 228–244 Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 1359-8546] [DOI 10.1108/SCM-10-2015-0386] © Parry, Brax, Maull, Ng. Published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.