Can you see it? A new mobile logistics paradigm has formed, nearly overnight, around the convergence of consumer technology trends and supply chain systems. In just a few years, the proliferation of powerful, affordable, and multifunctional mobile technologies has revolutionized communication and productivity - at home and in the field. As someone who spends a lot of time helping businesses optimize their supply chain systems, I attribute this shift to the presence of three different forces: 1.) the merging of consumer hardware and enterprise software; 2.) an enhanced and radically different support environment; and 3.) unprecedented features and access to data.
1. The Convergence of Consumer Devices and Enterprise Software
More and more companies are deploying handheld consumer devices (smartphones) in addition to or in place of ruggedized devices. At the same time, many ruggedized devices are beginning to resemble consumer smartphones. This has changed not only the diversity of hardware in use, but also the number of software platforms that must be integrated within a single supply chain. We need not look further than SAP's recent acquisition of SyBase to see how quickly the market is changing.
Recent history speaks for itself. Blackberrys used to be the exclusive right of company executives, so the "suits" could manage email on the road. The expectation now is that nearly all employees should be mobile, connected and productive, whether their employer officially issues mobile devices or not - case in point, the increased use of consumer Blackberry, iPhone, and Android devices for direct-store-delivery applications. When asked about mobile technology, the people who work in distribution, delivery, or inventory consistently respond, "I couldn't live without it." In addition, users expect devices to be multifunctional, which means multiple enterprise applications must be seamlessly integrated, including email, calendar, route accounting, and ERP.
This also means that younger users, the digital natives in your company, don't necessarily view these technologies as "new"; rather, it's assumed they'll use these to do their jobs anywhere, anytime. For that reason training has become less of a concern, as it isn't a huge user experience leap from a consumer smart phone to a ruggedized device.
2. An Enhanced and Radically Different Support Environment
Even though many of these new devices offer a high degree of out-of-the-box, plug-and-play functionality, the nuances of supporting consumer device platforms has typically been a challenge for in-house IT teams. This means that mobile software providers must evolve to provide comprehensive support across numerous platforms and devices, which are often running customized software.
Mobile support requires a completely different approach, given the unique demands mobility places on hardware and software. Support must now be mobile-focused in addition to traditional desktop support. Because remote access to the device itself is not usually possible, support teams must develop protocols for resolving problems through phone calls with the user. Also, because software applications are deeply integrated with each type of device, software providers must now support a "total solution" that covers hardware and software issues. Consequently, many businesses have elected to outsource most of their IT and support departments, as it's much easier to scale support according to actual demand, and it eliminates the need for companies to spend a lot of money training IT groups on new technologies.
3. Ease of Use, Depth of Functionality, and Constant Access to Data
Perhaps more important than the device itself, is the unique user experience offered through today's mobile operating systems. Without a doubt, the "App Store" model has permanently changed the way software developers deliver new software to end users. Rather than taking a monolithic software update containing features people and businesses may not use (not to mention the bug risks), micro-application or feature-based updates eliminate the risk of software programs conflicting with each other. This model also accelerates innovation, by delivering new features independently, on-demand as the user desires them. The emergence of "enterprise app stores" has solidified the value of this model, as enterprise software companies adapt their distribution models to increase efficiency and flexibility, as well as improve the customer experience.
In the early days of mobile operating systems, the features available to mobile users typically were quite limited with respect to functionality and performance. Recent advances in mobile device processing and memory have made it possible to build mobile applications with the same feature set found in a desktop version. Moving between mobile and desktop environments is now seamless - in fact, in some cases users may prefer to perform a given task on a mobile device. A great example of this is the movement away from traditional reporting to mobile data visualization.
It is important to mention that, beyond their sheer portability, mobile devices have other advantages over their laptop or desktop counterparts. Integrated GPS functionality offers real-time mapping and navigation, scanning technology enables mobile devices to process credit cards, and increasingly sophisticated imaging technology means the mobile worker also can capture photos, audio, and video of important objects or events.
With all of this in mind, let us not forget that advances in mobile technology also benefit the customer, directly and indirectly. For instance, the most advanced route accounting software allows customers to review all critical billing, ordering and promotional information. If they have questions the mobile worker can address them through just a few clicks or touchscreen taps. This leads to better customer service and customer decisions, which is how, ultimately, the success of your supply chain is measured.
Source: HighJump Software
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