Executive Briefings

Three Experts on How Integrating Mobile Technology Leads to Success

As businesses increasingly become more mobile, integrating different devices, applications and data into a single, seamless network is a significant challenge. In this Power Lunch roundtable, conducted at the annual user conference sponsored by Barcoding Inc., three experts discuss the keys to a successful integration project and identify common mistakes to avoid. They are: Martin Jack, chief technology officer at Barcoding Inc.; Kerry Kulp, network systems consultant at Cumulus Consulting Group; and Kelly Harris, director of program management at Barcoding Inc. The conversation is facilitated by SupplyChainBrain Editor Emeritus Jean Murphy.

Three Experts on How Integrating Mobile Technology Leads to Success

Q: What do you consider the most important components of a successful mobile implementation?

A: Harris:  It really depends on the situation because different projects have different components. Generally, though, software applications play a huge role because they do all the heavy lifting in terms of data collection and processing. Second, the hardware component is important because that is where the data collection happens and it's what you give users to do their jobs. Finally, the behind-the-scenes network is a huge consideration; everything we do nowadays is real time, so you need to have real-time connectivity to pull and push that data so the guys back at corporate know what is going on. So with even simple projects, you will have three or four key components and players that have to work together. 

A: Jack: Folks envisioning a mobile project need to decide exactly what the company wants to get out of it - and they need to do that at the outset. Do they want to increase sales? Decrease costs? What is it they want to achieve? Once they have that defined, then they need to focus on selecting the right partners to help them pull together all the pieces and parts of that solution. 

A: Kulp: I agree. When we see projects run into problems it is usually because the people focused on the technology before identifying the business need. Identifying the business need first is really a key thing, then you identify the technology that will support your objective. 

Q: How important it is to have an overall project manager?

A: Harris:  A project manager definitely is needed, especially when you are dealing with more complex solutions where there are a lot of players involved and a lot of different companies to manage. You need someone to essentially conduct the symphony and make sure all the project milestones are being reached and that the timeline and deliverables are coming together. That's what a project manager does. 

A: Kulp: Right, there is never just one organization handling these things. There are multiple players and you need a manager to keep all those groups on target. 

A: Jack: You also want to make sure that the customer is very much involved in these projects. We have sometimes seen consultants come in to manage these projects and they don't really understand how the company functions and what all the roles and resources are, so you need a point of contact within the customer's organization who will manage expectations and drive requirements. You really need that type of feedback from customers to make solutions successful. 

A: Kulp: You can't outsource ownership of the project - that has to be inside the organization. 

A: Jack: We were talking earlier about some of the reasons projects fail, and one reason that we see is lack of communications, where different resources are slow getting back to each other. That kind of lag in communications is a common failure point because it affects the timeline. People don't think about the impact, but if one task gets shifted by a few days that affects other tasks and the project timeline starts to slide. That gap gets bigger and bigger and three months in you are way off schedule and wondering what happened. So it's important to keep communications very tight. 

Q: Is the timeline strictly linear on these projects or are things happening simultaneously?

A: Kulp: Certainly there are key milestones that have to occur before other things can happen, but there also are a lot of parallel paths. Once you get through the initial milestones, like setting project goals, that have to occur before you really kickoff the work, then things start to move more in parallel. 

A: Jack: Yes, at the beginning it is really important to get everyone working together. Then you can go off and work in parallel, come back and check in, then go out again. For the project to move along, you don't want entity A waiting on entity B to complete something. A lot of these systems are so much more complicated than they were in the past that you can no longer look to just one group of resources within a company. There are many different resources and the only way to advance the project is to have everyone working on their piece. 

Q: What are some of the key issues around software selection?

A: Jack: I tell companies that this is a long-term solution so they need to focus on support. Choose a vendor that is going to be there to support you, not only during the implementation phase but two years from now when you have new requirements. This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of options out there and too often we see companies go for what looks like a good deal from a supplier that may not be able to finish the job. With software implementations, we see a lot of companies get to 95 percent completion and just never make it to 100 percent. So my advice is to focus on a software company that will be there and can support you. It's also a good idea to look for a software partner that has relevant experience. If you are building a mobile solution for proof of delivery, for example, look for a company with experience in that area, because that will help move things along. 

A: Harris: Customers always think that their situation is unique and that they operate differently from anyone else. But when you look at the business requirements, you find a lot of similarity between projects. So companies should make sure they look at what is available off the shelf that may require only minor customizations, and also look for a vendor that excels in their particular industry. Customization can be minimized if you start with a solution that caters to a particular industry or type of job, and that also helps the timeline and the budget. 

Q: Are there new applications in the market to help with mobility integration?

A: Kulp: There is a lot going on with networks. It used to be the network was secondary to just about everything else. The network wasn't there to support the applications or real-time communications. But today we are able to carry just about anything we want over the network and we are pushing everything back and forth in real time instead of batch mode. There also are a tremendous number of applications that are pushing things forward, such as voice-directed picking and video solutions for field service. 

Q: With so many platforms for mobile and so many different kinds of devices, how do you manage the fragmentation?

A: Kulp: From a technology perspective, the market has grown so much there is a lot of fragmentation, especially in end-user devices. This is challenging from an infrastructure perspective in terms of trying to develop solutions that can support all of those devices, but it also gives organizations an opportunity to come up with solutions that really fit their business. 

A: Jack: And there are new development tools on the market now that allow you to go cross-platform, creating applications that will run on multiple platforms and devices, so the tools seem to be keeping up with the fragmentation. But if a company has a specific problem, it doesn't have to solve that problem across all devices - I say focus on the device that will benefit you the most. 

A: Kulp: From the application side, it's almost always better to optimize for a particular device or set of devices. But as a network guy, we have to support anything and everything because we don't know what is coming six months or more down the road. So our perspective is a little different. We want to be ubiquitous and able to work with whatever is out there. 

Q: How does this play into the "bring your own device" trend?

A: Kulp: BYOD is the buzz acronym of 2013. It is getting a tremendous amount of attention and rightfully so. It is a way for organizations to save money and unburden some resources, and it is something users themselves are pushing for. They don't want to use a big, clunky industrial device if don't have to. If they can get the same job done with their Android device, they're happy. This started with executives pushing to have their tablets useable on the network and it has driven down to every level of the organization. It just makes it more obvious that we need to make sure networks support anything you bring to it. 

A: Harris: As a user I relate to everything you just said - I am the annoying person who comes in with an iPhone and an iPad, wanting them to work on the network. But in the supply chain area, when you are talking about users making deliveries in the field or working in the warehouse, I still think a company-provided device is the best fit, both in terms of durability and application needs. A phone the guy has in his pocket wouldn't be suitable for a lot of these apps. So I think in the supply chain industry, BYOD is less of an issue right now. In a year or two that might be different. 

A: Kulp: Yes, this is something that started more in the administrative and executive space, but it is moving everywhere in the organization, just because of the cost savings that the organization can achieve. 

Q: One of the speakers this morning really emphasized the importance of keeping control of the integration project. Give me your views on that issue.

A: Jack: That speaker made a good point. He wanted his company to control the integration between the different systems, and that is the way it needs to be. Again, I go back to the business requirements that drive the design and how the system will work. The customer really owns and understands those requirements and the pieces that need to be integrated. Experts may come in and actually implement it, but the customer needs to keep control of that to have a successful project.

This goes back to the reasons for project failure, because I think the number one reason that projects fail is in this area of integration. People think it is enough to say "I am using this system and you are using that system, let's get them connected," and it is never that simple. Integration has to be planned out. You are talking about two systems agreeing to exchange certain data elements with a particular interface and the data integration team needs to agree on that contract in the design stage. I use the word "contract" because it needs to be like a legal contract for that relationship to work. That contract cannot be broken and every party must perform in a timely fashion for the project to be successful - without that it will fail, more often than not. 

A: Harris: The presenter you referenced talked about a cohesive mobility strategy for his organization and the project he presented on was one piece of that - so I think it is important to remember to go big and then go small. You can get so focused on one particular problem that you forget about how that impacts and interfaces with the rest of the organization.

I always come back to planning. People need to look at the big picture, at what the organization is hoping to achieve and the business requirements of that, and then put together a cohesive plan for the project and draw a picture of what it will look like after implementation. I think a lot of people try to cut corners on planning and that comes back to bite them in the end. 

A: Kulp: Reasons for failure is an interesting question because the project itself may not fail, but the deployment may fail in the sense that it wasn't thought through sufficiently to support changes in the business. So I think the question about failure is not necessarily about a particular project, but whether the company planned appropriately to ensure that the system they are putting in place is a long-term solution. 

A: Jack: And one thing we haven't talked about that you have to have with mobility projects is device management. You have to think about how you touch these devices, how you get updates from these devices and how you enforce policies on these devices. You definitely need to have a plan around managing devices in the field. 

A: Kulp: Absolutely.  Mobile device management is a key component to any successful implementation of any size, not just large deployments. Those devices don't come back for somebody to work on, so you need a way to manage and make changes to them. Then when you get into the security aspect and policy enforcement, having a mobile device management platform is critical.

To view the video in its entirety, click here

Keywords: supply chain, it supply chain, supply chain management, it supply chain management, supply chain management it, supply chain management scm, logistics management, warehouse management, logistics & supply chain, supply chain solutions, logistics it solutions, supply chain planning, supply chain systems, wms warehouse management

Q: What do you consider the most important components of a successful mobile implementation?

A: Harris:  It really depends on the situation because different projects have different components. Generally, though, software applications play a huge role because they do all the heavy lifting in terms of data collection and processing. Second, the hardware component is important because that is where the data collection happens and it's what you give users to do their jobs. Finally, the behind-the-scenes network is a huge consideration; everything we do nowadays is real time, so you need to have real-time connectivity to pull and push that data so the guys back at corporate know what is going on. So with even simple projects, you will have three or four key components and players that have to work together. 

A: Jack: Folks envisioning a mobile project need to decide exactly what the company wants to get out of it - and they need to do that at the outset. Do they want to increase sales? Decrease costs? What is it they want to achieve? Once they have that defined, then they need to focus on selecting the right partners to help them pull together all the pieces and parts of that solution. 

A: Kulp: I agree. When we see projects run into problems it is usually because the people focused on the technology before identifying the business need. Identifying the business need first is really a key thing, then you identify the technology that will support your objective. 

Q: How important it is to have an overall project manager?

A: Harris:  A project manager definitely is needed, especially when you are dealing with more complex solutions where there are a lot of players involved and a lot of different companies to manage. You need someone to essentially conduct the symphony and make sure all the project milestones are being reached and that the timeline and deliverables are coming together. That's what a project manager does. 

A: Kulp: Right, there is never just one organization handling these things. There are multiple players and you need a manager to keep all those groups on target. 

A: Jack: You also want to make sure that the customer is very much involved in these projects. We have sometimes seen consultants come in to manage these projects and they don't really understand how the company functions and what all the roles and resources are, so you need a point of contact within the customer's organization who will manage expectations and drive requirements. You really need that type of feedback from customers to make solutions successful. 

A: Kulp: You can't outsource ownership of the project - that has to be inside the organization. 

A: Jack: We were talking earlier about some of the reasons projects fail, and one reason that we see is lack of communications, where different resources are slow getting back to each other. That kind of lag in communications is a common failure point because it affects the timeline. People don't think about the impact, but if one task gets shifted by a few days that affects other tasks and the project timeline starts to slide. That gap gets bigger and bigger and three months in you are way off schedule and wondering what happened. So it's important to keep communications very tight. 

Q: Is the timeline strictly linear on these projects or are things happening simultaneously?

A: Kulp: Certainly there are key milestones that have to occur before other things can happen, but there also are a lot of parallel paths. Once you get through the initial milestones, like setting project goals, that have to occur before you really kickoff the work, then things start to move more in parallel. 

A: Jack: Yes, at the beginning it is really important to get everyone working together. Then you can go off and work in parallel, come back and check in, then go out again. For the project to move along, you don't want entity A waiting on entity B to complete something. A lot of these systems are so much more complicated than they were in the past that you can no longer look to just one group of resources within a company. There are many different resources and the only way to advance the project is to have everyone working on their piece. 

Q: What are some of the key issues around software selection?

A: Jack: I tell companies that this is a long-term solution so they need to focus on support. Choose a vendor that is going to be there to support you, not only during the implementation phase but two years from now when you have new requirements. This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of options out there and too often we see companies go for what looks like a good deal from a supplier that may not be able to finish the job. With software implementations, we see a lot of companies get to 95 percent completion and just never make it to 100 percent. So my advice is to focus on a software company that will be there and can support you. It's also a good idea to look for a software partner that has relevant experience. If you are building a mobile solution for proof of delivery, for example, look for a company with experience in that area, because that will help move things along. 

A: Harris: Customers always think that their situation is unique and that they operate differently from anyone else. But when you look at the business requirements, you find a lot of similarity between projects. So companies should make sure they look at what is available off the shelf that may require only minor customizations, and also look for a vendor that excels in their particular industry. Customization can be minimized if you start with a solution that caters to a particular industry or type of job, and that also helps the timeline and the budget. 

Q: Are there new applications in the market to help with mobility integration?

A: Kulp: There is a lot going on with networks. It used to be the network was secondary to just about everything else. The network wasn't there to support the applications or real-time communications. But today we are able to carry just about anything we want over the network and we are pushing everything back and forth in real time instead of batch mode. There also are a tremendous number of applications that are pushing things forward, such as voice-directed picking and video solutions for field service. 

Q: With so many platforms for mobile and so many different kinds of devices, how do you manage the fragmentation?

A: Kulp: From a technology perspective, the market has grown so much there is a lot of fragmentation, especially in end-user devices. This is challenging from an infrastructure perspective in terms of trying to develop solutions that can support all of those devices, but it also gives organizations an opportunity to come up with solutions that really fit their business. 

A: Jack: And there are new development tools on the market now that allow you to go cross-platform, creating applications that will run on multiple platforms and devices, so the tools seem to be keeping up with the fragmentation. But if a company has a specific problem, it doesn't have to solve that problem across all devices - I say focus on the device that will benefit you the most. 

A: Kulp: From the application side, it's almost always better to optimize for a particular device or set of devices. But as a network guy, we have to support anything and everything because we don't know what is coming six months or more down the road. So our perspective is a little different. We want to be ubiquitous and able to work with whatever is out there. 

Q: How does this play into the "bring your own device" trend?

A: Kulp: BYOD is the buzz acronym of 2013. It is getting a tremendous amount of attention and rightfully so. It is a way for organizations to save money and unburden some resources, and it is something users themselves are pushing for. They don't want to use a big, clunky industrial device if don't have to. If they can get the same job done with their Android device, they're happy. This started with executives pushing to have their tablets useable on the network and it has driven down to every level of the organization. It just makes it more obvious that we need to make sure networks support anything you bring to it. 

A: Harris: As a user I relate to everything you just said - I am the annoying person who comes in with an iPhone and an iPad, wanting them to work on the network. But in the supply chain area, when you are talking about users making deliveries in the field or working in the warehouse, I still think a company-provided device is the best fit, both in terms of durability and application needs. A phone the guy has in his pocket wouldn't be suitable for a lot of these apps. So I think in the supply chain industry, BYOD is less of an issue right now. In a year or two that might be different. 

A: Kulp: Yes, this is something that started more in the administrative and executive space, but it is moving everywhere in the organization, just because of the cost savings that the organization can achieve. 

Q: One of the speakers this morning really emphasized the importance of keeping control of the integration project. Give me your views on that issue.

A: Jack: That speaker made a good point. He wanted his company to control the integration between the different systems, and that is the way it needs to be. Again, I go back to the business requirements that drive the design and how the system will work. The customer really owns and understands those requirements and the pieces that need to be integrated. Experts may come in and actually implement it, but the customer needs to keep control of that to have a successful project.

This goes back to the reasons for project failure, because I think the number one reason that projects fail is in this area of integration. People think it is enough to say "I am using this system and you are using that system, let's get them connected," and it is never that simple. Integration has to be planned out. You are talking about two systems agreeing to exchange certain data elements with a particular interface and the data integration team needs to agree on that contract in the design stage. I use the word "contract" because it needs to be like a legal contract for that relationship to work. That contract cannot be broken and every party must perform in a timely fashion for the project to be successful - without that it will fail, more often than not. 

A: Harris: The presenter you referenced talked about a cohesive mobility strategy for his organization and the project he presented on was one piece of that - so I think it is important to remember to go big and then go small. You can get so focused on one particular problem that you forget about how that impacts and interfaces with the rest of the organization.

I always come back to planning. People need to look at the big picture, at what the organization is hoping to achieve and the business requirements of that, and then put together a cohesive plan for the project and draw a picture of what it will look like after implementation. I think a lot of people try to cut corners on planning and that comes back to bite them in the end. 

A: Kulp: Reasons for failure is an interesting question because the project itself may not fail, but the deployment may fail in the sense that it wasn't thought through sufficiently to support changes in the business. So I think the question about failure is not necessarily about a particular project, but whether the company planned appropriately to ensure that the system they are putting in place is a long-term solution. 

A: Jack: And one thing we haven't talked about that you have to have with mobility projects is device management. You have to think about how you touch these devices, how you get updates from these devices and how you enforce policies on these devices. You definitely need to have a plan around managing devices in the field. 

A: Kulp: Absolutely.  Mobile device management is a key component to any successful implementation of any size, not just large deployments. Those devices don't come back for somebody to work on, so you need a way to manage and make changes to them. Then when you get into the security aspect and policy enforcement, having a mobile device management platform is critical.

To view the video in its entirety, click here

Keywords: supply chain, it supply chain, supply chain management, it supply chain management, supply chain management it, supply chain management scm, logistics management, warehouse management, logistics & supply chain, supply chain solutions, logistics it solutions, supply chain planning, supply chain systems, wms warehouse management

Three Experts on How Integrating Mobile Technology Leads to Success