September 30, 2014 by Donna Fritz
In my last post, I focused on steps for mid-market companies to determine what operations tasks are best enabled through mobile devices and what are best kept at the desktop. In this post, I’ll focus on the business transactions that can best be enabled through smart mobile devices (tablets and smart phones).
Mobile solutions for business transactions (RFQs, ordering, payment, etc.) are far less mature, quite simply because technology and usability advancements for mobile devices have only recently begun to catch up to supply chain business complexity.
This is also an area where the benefits of mobility can be more fuzzy. Contrary to the operational tasks mentioned in my previous post, staff performing business tasks have typically remained at their desks; task mobility hasn’t been nearly as essential. Time away from the desk has historically been considered lost productivity for business tasks.
But things are changing. Integrated processes and real-time information updates are quickly becoming table stakes for mid-market companies who need to create margin to invest in growth. To maintain agility and responsiveness across the supply chain, tasks are no longer confined to the desk, and no longer confined to a specific functional area. There is also a growing trend of enabling operational staff to complete certain low risk business transactions when there are tangible benefits from the expedited processing.
Kanban is a great example of the trend to transfer low-risk procurement tasks to operations staff. Instead of submitting replenishment requests to procurement, forward thinking mid-market companies that utilize Kanban are empowering inventory and warehouse staff to use tablets interfaced into their procurement portals to create releases against blanket purchase orders in real time from the warehouse floor.
This has not only been a time saver, but an error saver as well. Order counts and overall stock levels are more consistently accurate because counts and replenishment are handled in the same task session. As a result, working capital is preserved (safety stock levels are optimized and unnecessary supplemental/rush orders can be avoided). Disruptions in manufacturing and production due to unexpected materials shortages are also minimized.
So, how do you determine what you want staff doing from mobile smart devices? There are natural limitations because of the small screen (even on tablets), however you may want to scale back additionally based on your specific productivity measurements.
For example, you may want to enable simple transactions such as single line PO or release creation on a mobile device (as in the Kanban example above), but require multi-line and other, more complex POs and releases to be created at the desktop. This allows for lower risk tasks to be performed quickly and encourages more complex tasks to be done in a setting with fewer potential disruptions (desktop).
Workflow approvals are another area where mobile tasking can be valuable. Staff can review, approve/reject and annotate high priority orders from smart devices regardless of their location, even if they are on their way to lunch!
Perhaps the biggest area to consider, though, is how to make better use of the smart mobile devices, themselves. Until recently, hand held scanners were for data collection and desktops were for everything else. But if you think about how much we already do on our personal mobile smart devices (banking, texting, calls, email, calculations, games, etc.) the potential to leverage a single mobile smart device for both operations and business transactions is well within reach.
Consider this scenario: Materials QA uses a tablet scanner to check in a new order through a data collection app. Items passing inspection are moved into inventory through the same data collection app. Items not passing are returned through an RMA app. Inventory is updated automatically and a shortage notification is either sent to procurement, or handled in real-time via a Procurement app.
One device, four time sensitive tasks, all handled within a few minutes rather than a few days. As a result, inventory is more accurate, orders are more timely and the supply chain can be more responsive.
Integrating mobile transactions into your supply chain operations can be a key driver of efficiencies and also protect your margin. As with any solution, it’s important to identify where it fits into your strategy and what type of implementation is best suited for your organization. Some technology decisions to consider can be found in my post Taking Your Supply Chain Mobile.
You can also email me to discuss your ideas about mobility in your supply chain and how we could help.