Operationalising IoT for reverse supply: the development of use-visibility measures

Glenn C. Parry, Saara A. Brax, Roger S. Maull, Irene C. L. Ng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose – Improvement of reverse supply chains requires accurate and timely information about the patterns of consumption. In the consumer context, the ways to generate and access such use-visibility data are in their infancy. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate how the Internet of Things (IoT) may be operationalised in the domestic setting to capture data on a consumer’s use of products and the implications for reverse supply chains. Design/methodology/approach – This study uses an explorative case approach drawing on data from studies of six UK households. “Horizontal” data, which reveals patterns in consumers’ use processes, is generated by combining “vertical” data from multiple sources. Use processes in the homes are mapped using IDEF0 and illustrated with the data. The quantitative data are generated using wireless sensors in the home, and qualitative data are drawn from online calendars, social media, interviews and ethnography. Findings – The study proposes four generic measurement categories for operationalising the concept of use-visibility: experience, consumption, interaction and depletion, which together address the use of different household resources. The explorative case demonstrates how these measures can be operationalised to achieve visibility of the context of use in the home. The potential of such use-visibility for reverse supply chains is discussed. Research limitations/implications – This explorative case study is based on an in-depth study of the bathroom which illustrates the application of use-visibility measures (UVMs) but provides a limited use context. Further research is needed from a wider set of homes and a wider set of use processes and contexts. Practical implications – The case demonstrates the operationalisation of the combination of data from different sources and helps answer questions of “why?”, “how?”, “when?” and “how much?”, which can inform reverse supply chains. The four UVMs can be operationalised in a way that can contribute to supply chain visibility, providing accurate and timely information of consumption, optimising resource use and eliminating waste. Originality/value – IDEF0 framework and case analysis is used to identify and validate four UVMs available through IoT data – that of experience, consumption, interaction and depletion. The UVMs characterise IoT data generated from a given process and inform the primary reverse flow in the future supply chain. They provide the basis for future data collection and development of theory around their effect on reverse supply chain efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-244
Number of pages17
JournalSupply Chain Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2016


  • Business performance
  • Closed loop supply
  • Internet of Things
  • Reverse supply chain
  • Visibility


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