Operational vs. Business Mobile Transactions
The initial step is to identify what areas of your supply chain operations can benefit most from mobile transactions. We typically break these into two groups: operations and business. We’ll start first with operations (data collection via handheld scanners in areas such as receiving, the shop room floor, warehouse and shipping). Mobility for these activities has been around for more than two decades and is fairly mature. In fact, the performance requirements for mobile operational tasks are so well established that companies with fully mature mobile data collection solutions measure productivity down to the second.
It’s probably safe to say that you already have a few handheld scanners on your receiving dock and in your warehouse. That said, it’s a good idea to periodically revisit your mobile data collection strategy. This helps to ensure you’re getting the most from each work position, and that you’re leveraging the right tools and equipment to support them. A good exercise for evaluating and fine-tuning your existing mobile transactions is a regularly scheduled process study. This identifies areas of wasted productivity in all tasks (mobile and desktop) along with activities that contribute to errors. Often times, the results identify areas to expand the use of mobile transactions to minimize both.
Mobile Transactions to Improve Operations
One opportunity for expanding mobility to improve operations for a mid-market company could be mobile/wireless label printing. Some companies pre-print materials labels at workstations based on received shipments, and then workers apply the labels after the materials have been placed in their warehouse location. This division of tasks and processes looks good on paper, but what can happen is that the workers doing the labeling periodically have difficulty accurately matching the label to the item, so they must return to the workstation for more information.
These same companies often had too many pre-printed labels (which they then have to destroy), or in some cases employees will run out and have to return to the workstation to print more. As a result, label waste will increase, inventory counts will continue to be at an unacceptable level of accuracy (put-away and labeling are separated and there can sometimes be as much as a five-day delay between the two tasks), and labor clock time will increase because of the extra trips back and forth to the workstation.
The solution to this problem is to expand the use of handheld scanners in the warehouse so put-away and labeling tasks can be combined. Wireless printing carts should also incorporated so labels can be output in the correct quantities and applied accurately in the same task session. If this handheld system is implemented effectively, all three problem areas (label waste, inventory errors and wasted labor) could register tangible improvement within a relatively short time-frame.
Evaluating Mobile Transactions
Here are some quick steps for evaluating mobile transactions for operations:
1. Perform a process study for your existing mobile and desktop transactions.
a. Screen for unnecessary movement/trips to retrieve information or perform tasks.
b. Evaluate the amount of aging between tasks or tasks that are divided across workers (such as receiving and labeling above, where receiving handheld scanners and labeling did not).
2. Pull in other stakeholders who also depend on the information being captured and updated. This could be areas such as planning, procurement and finance. Work with them to understand the time and cost savings they would have with more accurate and expedited data.
3. Identify the top candidate area for improvement and roll out a pilot program with predefined success measurements.
Mobile Transactions for Business Functions
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 previously, 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 that 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. More companies are also empowering operational staff to complete certain low-risk business transactions when the expedited processing could produce tangible benefits.
Kanban, a process for managing activities from a production/operations point of view to support just-in-time manufacturing, 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.
Single and simple is best
So, how do you determine what you want staff doing with mobile smart devices? The devices do have natural limitations because of the small screen (even on tablets), and you may want to scale back 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 approach will help companies perform lower-risk tasks quickly, while complex tasks are completed 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!
Here are some basic tasks that could be done more efficiently with a mobile-enabled system:
• Simple, straightforward transactions, which include simple POs, releases and acknowledgments
• Quick search and status updates, which include order status look-up
• Workflow approvals, which include pending approvals and simple change orders
Looking ahead: combining tasks to a single device
Perhaps the biggest area to consider, though, is how to make better use of the smart mobile devices themselves. Until recently, handheld 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.
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.
Source: TAKE Supply Chain
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