From reducing the carbon footprint, to route management, to preventing contraband and trafficking, the introduction of IoT in the supply chain can make significant impacts. ORBCOMM’s VP of Business Development, Al Tama, joins Ryan Chacon on this episode of the IoT For All Podcast to discuss IoT in the supply chain. Al talks about the challenges, adoption, future, and impact of IoT and telematics for supply chain management.

About Al

Al Tama has more than 20 years of experience delivering mission-critical systems to shipping lines, marine terminal operators, and port complexes. He’s the Vice President and General Manager of Container and Port Solutions at ORBCOMM and has been instrumental in developing ORBCOMM’s container shipping solutions. He has worked closely with their container and port industry customers for over seven years. Before joining ORBCOMM, he served as General Manager at WAM Technologies, which deployed the first large-scale global telemetry control and monitoring system for nearly 300,000 refrigerated containers. He also served as Director of Technology at Mark-IT Services, a leading provider of monitoring and protective services for refrigerated intermodal shipments in North America.

Interested in connecting with Al? Reach out on Linkedin!


ORBCOMM was founded 30 years ago, and they’re a global leader harnessing IoT technologies to deliver remote visibility, traceability, monitoring, and control to many industries. ​They develop and provide innovative analytics platforms, satellite and cellular connectivity, and smart devices for some of the biggest brands in the world, like Walmart, Hitachi, and Hapag-Lloyd. ​Their industry-leading solutions collect data and deliver insights from commercial equipment, enabling customers to boost productivity, streamline operations and increase their bottom line. That includes the cold chain, container logistics, and cargo distribution across land and sea​We began deployments of refrigerated container telematics more than a decade ago. ​They are also the world’s largest provider of maritime AIS data, tracking vessel locations across the globe.  

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(00:38) Introduction to Al & ORBCOMM

(01:37) What is telematics

(03:09) IoT in the supply chain

(05:23) Challenges for IoT in dry containers

(08:04) What leading to recent adoption trend 

(11:20) Supply chain data with IoT

(13:46) The future of IoT and the supply chain


– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast. I’m Ryan Chacon and on today’s episode, we’re gonna be focused on talking about telematics and IoT as it connects to the supply chain and dry containers. A very interesting conversation, I promise you, and the person joining me today will be Al Tama, the Vice President of Business Development and Container and Port Solutions at ORBCOMM. They are a leader in industrial IoT solutions. I think we’ll get a lot of value in this conversation, but before I let you go into the episode, please be sure to subscribe to our channel if you haven’t not done so already. Hit that bell icon so get the latest episodes as soon as they are out, and give this video a thumbs up. All right, now on to the episode. Welcome, Al, to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.

– [Al] Oh, it’s great to be here, thanks for having me.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, I definitely look forward to this conversation. Let me kick it off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself to our audience.

– [Al] Sure, so my name is Al Tama and I work for ORBCOMM. We’re a leader in industrial internet of things, technology and telematics. You’ll hear me use IoT and telematics maybe a little bit interchangeably because they’re very similar things. ORBCOMM has over two million subscribers and deals in many different business verticals. We have our own constellation of satellites that provide IoT data and vessel tracking, just to name a couple of the functions that they do. We’re involved in transportation, over-the-road heavy equipment, and the container and port space, which is what I in particular focus on. So when we talk about marine transportation of containers, that’s my area of focus.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Yeah, we’ll get into all that for sure, but I wanna kick it off by talking about one of the points you mentioned, which is telematics and IoT. You talk about using them interchangeably, but to our audience, could you kind of talk about, at a high level, telematics, what it is, how it works, you know, again, a high level, and how you kind of connect it with the IoT world?

– [Al] Sure, yeah, they don’t really mean the same thing, right? Internet of Things, everybody has their phone to control their thermostat and their lights and stuff like that and that’s not what I do for a living. What we do and what I do is we place modems, so think of a portable modem device, we fix them, you know, usually permanently, sometimes temporarily, to an asset, so like we were talking about, could be a container, could be a tractor trailer that goes over the road, whatever it is, basically its most basic function is to track the location, where is it? Depending on what the asset is, you know, that use case could become much more intense so you can have something that you’re able to control, like we talked about being able to control your lights. You can change the temperature on a container that’s climate controlled or refrigerated. You can have cameras that look for cargo and take snapshots of pictures and see how loaded something is and on and on. I could name 1,000 use cases, but that’s really what the IoT portion of ORBCOMM is when it comes to the container space.

– [Ryan] Okay, fantastic. And I know you mentioned the container space, which is actually a conversation and a use case we don’t talk too much about. Summarize that up for the audience. Like when we’re talking about telematics in the container space, what does that use case really mean, and what does that look like?

– [Al] Yeah, sure, so it’s funny because you don’t talk about it a lot. Most people don’t think about it a lot either, right? Like you go to your store or more often than not, you order on your laptop or your computer something from Amazon or some other company and it just arrives at your door somehow. Here in the US, a lot of the stuff comes from overseas, and those goods are all transported, you know, via oceangoing containers, which, you know, they’re loaded at the point of origin, put on a vessel, they make it over here to the US, and in our case, and then they’re put on a truck and sometimes moved to a warehouse where it then is transloaded to another, you know, form of shipping, like a over-the-road trailer, and eventually it gets to, you know, the distribution point when it makes to our doorstep. So what we do is, as I said, we track all those movements, basically the end-to-end supply chain. And historically, what has been done in this container space is we’ve tracked refrigerated containers. They’re basically climate controlled because they could be heated as well. Those are where your high-value goods come from and a lot of it is produce, pharmaceuticals, that type of thing. So once again, very important to the international, you know, trade. You know, when you go to your favorite restaurant, you know, you look at your plate, you know, chances are, you know, some portion of that came, you know, via a shipping container, right? So that’s historically where IoT has been enabled in the container space. Now what we’re getting to the point to is where we can track dry containers. We’ve always had the technology, but if there’s 30 million containers total in the world and about 2 million are refrigerated, the vast majority are dry. So what that means is that the scale for deployment is a lot greater. So it’s not just a technology play. You also have to hit a certain price point, you know, for scale, and a couple other factors. And that’s the point that we finally have reached today. So that’s something that’s pretty exciting that I’m hoping to talk about today.

– [Ryan] Yeah. So let me ask you, you mentioned that is this kind of a new space really that’s kind of seeing the benefits of IoT technologies and so forth. What’s really kind of changed, or I guess even another way to ask that is what’s been the challenge for IoT to really get into more of the dry container space, which sounds like the majority of the shipping for supply chain is through dry containers, but why has it been so slow to adopt?

– [Al] Yeah, it’s a great question, and it’s something that I’ve lived a long journey to get to where we are today. Maybe the way to answer it is a little bit, you know, circuitous, I’ll start with once again, like where we live here in the northeast of the US. There are all these, you know, fleets of trucks that transport goods and those fleets started adopting IoT, you know, technology in the early 2000s. And now it’s pretty much, you know, saturated and penetrated, right? Like, any truck, whether it’s refrigerated or dry, probably has multiple devices on it, you know, to track drivers as well as cargo and the assets and all kinds of, you know, things about the maintenance of the vehicle too. The container space, the scale is so much bigger and these containers don’t stop moving, right? They could be anywhere in the world at any time. So the logistics of a rollout are much more challenging than, you know, a regional trucking fleet right there. And of course, the expenditure is, you know, exponentially greater, you know, as well to do the rollout. So that’s been a challenge just in the industry itself. You know, probably 10 years after these trucking companies started tracking, you know, their cargo, we got the first deployment of refrigerated, you know, container technology back in around 2010, you know, a round number. And so it’s taken about a decade to get to the point where that technology is proven, it’s not fully adopted, believe it or not, only about a third of refrigerated containers have, you know, telematics or IoT on them. But the use case is there and it’s proven and the rollouts are, you know, continuing. And I think we’re getting to the point where that is going to be, you know, 100%. Nobody doubts the use case once again, that challenge of the, rollout. And what we’ve seen is that with the early adopters, if you will, that have employed, you know, IoT on their refrigerated containers, they’ve become, you know, so ingrained in the use of technology for tracking to achieve operational efficiencies and also provide visibility to their customers as well as themselves, that now they are adopting, you know, the dry container technology.

– [Ryan] So it sounds like this is an industry that’s very similar to a lot of other industries where, you know, adopting a new technology and solution like this can be quite slow, you know? Quite slow to that take that digital transformation leap if you will for a number of reasons. But what do you think it is that has kind of caused the industry to be slower to adopt? I know now you’re saying, you know, the use cases are getting out there and I think that’s the case for a lot of industries, right? Where once you start seeing the use cases, more people start to be less concerned or scared to adopt. But I guess what I should ask is what are the biggest things companies have seen with these use cases that are leading to that increased adoption? Because like I said, there’s a lot of industries out there that are in a similar boat where like, if it’s not broke, let’s not touch it, it works, let’s not worry about optimizing. It’s good where it is. But that’s not necessarily what, you know, this whole world is all about when it comes to IoT and digital transformation, right? There is so much more that can be done and it takes a little bit of effort to get them to realize the value of being able to see their data in a better way to bring their data together to make decisions on it, stuff they might not have really thought about. So what have you seen or what have you all kind of done to really help those companies kind of get over the hump and see the value when they’re, you know, maybe kind of set in their ways prior to that?

– [Al] Yeah, it’s great. You summed up a lot of the key, you know, facets of the challenge. It’s a very conservative industry, the shipping industry, right? And these entities have been shipping for hundreds of years in some cases, right? And to a large degree, they’re running the operation a very similar way, right? Especially when it comes to the ocean going portion of it. And at the end of the day, you know, those companies are going to move goods whether they’re providing visibility to their end customers or not. So yeah, they’ve been very conservative. What has happened is there’s an initiative, I mean, first of all, the world is digitalized, right? So you can only hold on for so long to be that last piece of analog when it comes to the supply chain. But there’s also been some industry-wide initiatives where actually the top 10 shipping lines of the world have formed something called the DCSA, and the whole point of the Digital Container Shippers Association is to really focus on digitalization, data sharing and getting away from that analog world because that’s been the second challenge, right? A lot of the data when it’s got out there is siloed. So it only provides limited value. You have to have interchangeable data sets so that the data can be shared, you know, easily, and then you can really, you know, derive the value from it, right? It’s kind of like having an open ecosystem. And so ORBCOMM, we have been advocating for data standards, you know, for these data sharing purpose, and also of course advocating the different use cases, you know, for well over a decade. We’ve done a lot of lobbying to get to this point, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding as they say. And once you do adopt the technology, you do reap the benefits and there’s a lot of benefits that kind of are a little bit harder to see. It’s like you have to take a leap of faith before you can achieve those benefits and many have done so.

– [Ryan] Yeah. One of the biggest things I’ve seen a lot of these industries that are slower to adopt is once they start to see the value of being able to access real-time data, it just kind of turns the light bulb on on all the different things that are possible. And when it comes to kind of the shipping, supply chain kind of world, as companies that you’ve worked with or seen adopt IoT solutions that have enabled this access to realtime data, what would you say is the number one like value that is providing them, you know, to be able to do what maybe they couldn’t do before? If there’s like one thing you picked out of that, what would you kind of say is the biggest value for that access to realtime data?

– [Al] Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna answer it by just saying one, I’ll name a couple or a few.

– [Ryan] Okay, fair enough. Fair enough.

– [Al] But, you know, knowing where your asset is, of course, you know, can’t be undervalued, right? Especially in the global shipping, you know, industry, right? Having a container in the right place or knowing where they are is a challenge, right? And so it’s a lot easier to know where that container is when you know you can just look at it on the screen live, right? Rather than get a report, “Well, it was last seen here, so we think it’s in this area.” So container repositioning is important, you know, especially like during the pandemic, so many goods came, you know, coming from the, you know, from Asia over to the West Coast of the US, So containers were positioned very disproportionately, right? Being able to reposition them, you know, quickly is important. And of course, you know, the health of your cargo, right? Making sure that it’s okay, particularly when you’re talking about those high value goods, be them pharmaceuticals or produce, you know, electronics, you know, that they haven’t been compromised, you know, through these long journeys is also valuable. And when you do have that exceptional event that, okay, you do have a cargo that is compromised, kind of accelerating the next shipment, right? So to try and minimize disruption, you know, to the supply chain, make sure those shelves aren’t empty. I mean, those are just a few of the values. The other thing would be the customer experience, which I think the shipping industry is now latching onto. Customers have been asking for visibility, you know, to their shipments and more real time, you know, for years, right? Especially, you know, because you order your pizza and you know, okay, it’s just in the oven and you know, here it is. Like, why can’t I get visibility? And they’re like, “You know, it’s on a ship, it’s in the Atlantic, it’ll be there soon.”

– [Ryan] Yeah. It’s somewhere here, right? Yeah. No, I got you. I agree and I think that’s where we’re headed. And that’s kind of leads into a really good kind of question I have next, which is what is kind of the impact of this technology? We’re talking about how it’s working now and what benefits it can provide now, but where do you see this kind of big picture, long term? Where does this take that industry and where does it kind of get them from where they are now to that next step down the road as technology continues to evolve, adoption increases, use cases kind of grow? And where is everybody kinda getting excited about as to what this could eventually enable?

– [Al] Yeah, I think, gosh, there’s so many benefits. It’s like, you know, it goes beyond, you know, us as kind of like the the final end customer. We pretty much have our visibility, right? You track whatever it is that’s coming to your house and we can see it, we don’t see the portion before that. But I think what, you know, increased visibility just means a tighter supply chain. You’re able to get, you know, levels of security because you know who’s been, you know, in a container and who’s had possession of it. So you really are able to trace that back in terms of, you know, the journey, the voyage. That’s all very important stuff. You can, you know, imagine things around customs, for example. You know, there’s so many benefits when it comes to like preventing, you know, human trafficking or kind of, you know, any sort of contraband that gets put in these containers and things of that nature. And you can also really then mine data, like, I’m a big data guy, right? Everybody loves data. You can really look at, “Well, what routes did everything take,” and start, you know, kind of engineering out, you know, maybe unnecessary turns or maybe just even a corridor that, you know, just kind of uses too much energy, right? Reduce your carbon footprint. Yeah. So it’s limitless once you start generating data. That’s why I said like, you have to take that leap of faith and then you have all this data, then you figure out what to do with it in some cases, right? So there’s a simple, you know, use cases and then there’s the benefits that you didn’t foresee.

– [Ryan] I totally agree. You know, once you get access to that data, it’s almost like there’s endless possibilities if you put your mind to really thinking about what you can do with it. But it does take some time to really kind of wrap your brain around what value that can really provide you. Because for so many years, you know, if that data’s not accessible or not accessible in a real time manner, they’re not even thinking about that kind of stuff. So it does take some time to start to really see the value, to adopt the technology, implement it, roll out use cases, see successes, and there’s gonna be a lot of laggers behind that will see that success say, “Okay, now I’m ready to adopt.” And it kind of starts to spread into other areas of the industry. I think one of the biggest values we have is just the evolution of a lot of the technologies in IoT and how they’ve grown and how they become cheaper and just, you know, we’re making it more possible now than it ever was before to bring these solutions to lots of different industries more easily and more affordably. And that’s where I think across IoT in general, we’re starting to see adoption really pick up. And this is a space that I think a lot of people would argue over the last number of years has been a pretty big headache for people, right? Anything with supply chain related. So knowing that this is becoming more of a popular implementation in the industry, and we’re starting to see it adopted in the majority of the shipping containers, like, you know, I’m learning about today, just the fact that that’s even the case is, you know, is very exciting for the future of supply chain and things like that, which I know a lot of people, you know, don’t deal with it day-to-day, but they do interact with it day-to-day, they just may not realize it. And I think as this improves, it’s gonna improve just consumer satisfaction and, you know, things just across the board.

– [Al] Yep. We’re all impacted by what happens in the supply chain with these large shippers, right? You know, nobody wants to go have that, you know, go to the store and that, you know, shelf is bare or where their item is, you know, more than a couple days away, right? They want it immediately.

– [Ryan] Yeah. I mean, we get used to that, right? Like I mean, we talked about like you gave the pizza example, but I mean, just there are things that are shipping within the United States that now, there are easy to use apps that you can basically, and even with Amazon too, you can follow your product on the map. So why shouldn’t companies be able to do that? I know there’s obviously network and connection type things. There’s technologies that are used more on land than versus in sea, which do change things up a bit. But technology’s improving and getting enhanced to the point of this eventually hopefully becomes kind of as turnkey as it is for, you know, normal consumer orders, which should be fantastic. Last thing I wanna ask you before I let you go here is just for our audience who’s listening to this and wants to learn more about, not just ORBCOMM, but also kind of this space and these use cases and things like that, maybe as follow up questions from this conversation, what’s the best way they can reach out and kind of engage?

– [Al] Yeah. You can certainly find a lot of information there. You also have the ability to chat with us and, you know, basically get any questions or inquiries, you know, addressed and answered. So that’s, you know, that’s a good place to start.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. This has been a really cool conversation. It was something that, you know, when I was first talking with the team about doing this episode, we were trying to narrow down what would be the most value for not just you all, but also for our audience. And we found something that was a topic that we don’t cover a lot of, but it’s something that I think now when we’ve kind of raised more awareness about it, we’ll start to really get into the minds of people to see like, okay, IoT technology’s really growing, being adopted, and there’s a lot to understand of the value it can play in the entire supply chain. Not just in the shipping, in the container space, but just overall we’re seeing that adoption increase, which is a win for everybody.

– [Al] Yeah, I think a lot of people are gonna be surprised to learn that, you know, all those containers aren’t tracked and they haven’t been tracked. Probably gonna be amazed from that. So yeah, it’s good to bring awareness to what’s happening in this space. And thanks for having me here Ryan, because, you know, I love talking about IoT and-

– [Ryan] Absolutely. Yeah, this was great. I mean, I’m one of those people that you just mentioned, are gonna be very surprised to learn how things are not as tracked as well as maybe we thought they were. Also the fact that majority of shipping containers are dry versus kinda refrigerated and so forth, that is something that, you know, I didn’t know much about. We talked about refrigeration or, you know, cold chain monitoring and things like that. But this is something that I definitely learned a lot from. So I really appreciate the time and look forward to getting this out to our audience.

– [Al] Absolutely. Thanks, Ryan.

– [Ryan] Yeah, thank you.

– [Al] All right. Have a good one.

– [Ryan] All right everyone. Thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT for All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notification so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.

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IoT For All
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.