Everybody’s Gone Mobile … or Have They?

11/18/2013

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Mobility is a hot topic of discussion across the supply chain these days. Our customers are certainly asking us about mobile enablement for supply chain collaboration as well as data collection. The ability to keep the supply chain moving, regardless of an individual’s location, makes a lot of sense.

If a buyer can approve a PO change request from a supplier without being tethered to a desktop system, that’s a good thing. And, if a supplier can get a notification that a line item will be delayed to a buyer in real time, or the quantity split-shipped because of availability issues, that can also help avoid delays and disruptions down the line.

But…does this mean everyone else has already gone mobile and you have to as well?

 

What the Data Show: How Much Are Mobile Devices Really Used?

You might think that with all the discussion and product development around it, mobility is well established in supply chain operations.  Over the past months, we have heard differently from technology and supply chain professionals, exactly those who are often tasked with implementing their company’s strategy. Our research found that while mobility is important, its actual presence in supply chain operations may be less pervasive than many assumed.

 

Here is a quick look at the data:

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Inside their four walls, while 33.6% use mobile functionality for some wireless scanning or printing, almost 30% don’t use mobility at all. Outside their four walls, the numbers are even lower: 27.5% do some transactions from tablets and smart phones, but 36% don’t enable mobile transactions at all.

 

Emerging Technologies Still Need Exploration

Although smartphone and tablet usage is seemingly nonstop among consumers, While mobility is important, its actual presence in supply chain operations may be less pervasive than many assumed. and almost as common among business users, the challenge with the new, mobile supply chain, is that it is in its infancy.  It is critical not to fall into the trap of “mobility for mobility’s sake” or because it seems like “everyone is doing it.” Clearly they are not. Despite all the discussion, mobility in the supply chain, like other emerging areas such as cloud and big data, still requires a lot of exploration and definition before it can really add value to your operations.

While it may be tempting to get on the mobile bandwagon by rolling out a mobile application to fix a specific supply chain challenge or to simply move all your desktop transactions to mobile-enabled platforms, a strategy somewhere in the middle may be your best bet. A focus too narrow will not maximize the benefits mobility can bring and waste your time on one-off solutions, while a too broad approach may result in wasting resources implementing transactions that do not need a mobile component, such as those that are not actually time critical.

My colleague, Donna Fritz, wrote a recent blog post on this very topic: 3 Simple Rules for Taking Your Supply Chain Mobile. You may also want to check out a recent eBook - 6 Steps for Leveraging Tablets & Smartphones for Materials Data Collection – for more pointers.

 

A Roadmap to Mobility

We encourage our customers to take a tempered approach with their mobile supply chain support strategy – focus on key areas that can benefit from mobility now while planning a longer term roadmap that includes milestones for re-evaluating the available technology and their supply chain needs down the road.

We have no doubt that mobile will play an enormous role in the future of supply chain operations, but there is no need to rush ahead without a solid business foundation underfoot.

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