I say "begin" because, regardless of the hype, mobile supply chain management (mSCM) is still in its infancy. That may be hard to believe given the heavy use of mobile data collection devices like hand-held scanners in SCM activities but, as our own research has shown, inside a business's four walls almost 30 percent of supply chain managers use no mobility at all. Outside their four walls, the numbers are even lower, with just 27 percent enabling some transactions via tablets and smartphones. And 36 percent enable no mobile transactions at all.
Regardless of the pressure from the media and competitors, however, mid-market companies should not fall into the mobile-for-mobile’s-sake trap. Mobile SCM needs to be evaluated very carefully so only the business processes with the potential for high return on investment are enabled. For example, if a buyer can approve a purchase order (PO) change-request from anywhere, that’s high-value activity with immediate cost, timeliness and efficiency benefits; or, if a supplier can notify a buyer in real time that an item will be delayed, that improves customer satisfaction and loyalty – two of the leading indicators of future profits.
Because of the immediate return, it can be tempting to roll out a mobile application just to fix a specific problem or to go all in and mobile-enable all your desktop transactions. But a more strategic approach is your best bet. Play whack-a-mole by solving point-problems and you will end up with the same set of siloed technology problems you have today. Painting with too broad of a brush will most likely result in implementing transactions that do not need a mobile component. These cautionary tales aside, however, we believe that mobile will play an integral role in the future of supply chain operations, and this article will outline the three steps you can take to ensure successful supply chain mobility.
1. Understand the Tasks Best Suited to Mobile
Deciding which tasks will benefit the business by becoming mobility-enabled can be a daunting challenge. To start this process, break down your tasks into two groups: operations and business. Operations represent in-house activities like data collection via handheld scanners, picking orders, labeling shipments, etc. Mobility for these activities has been around for more than two decades in mature organizations, but, as pointed out earlier, a substantial number of supply chain managers still do not have access to even this basic level of technology.
Business tasks, on the other hand, are outwardly facing and can include business partners, suppliers, shippers and customers, and can include activities like approving POs, checking on shipments, and managing customer inquiries. This is where mobile apps that go beyond just simple data collection can make a real impact on how well you communicate and manage these important stakeholders.
To determine which processes (both business and operations) will benefit from a mobile component, perform a process study of your existing mobile and desktop transactions:
• Screen for unnecessary movement and trips to retrieve information or perform tasks.
• Evaluate the amount of time between tasks or activities that are divided across workers (such as receiving, labeling and entering warehouse location data).
• Take the time to understand which processes actually benefit from being on the desktop vs. a mobile device. (The screen size of mobile devices, for example, will limit their usefulness for certain activities like planning, multi-item sourcing and complex order entry.)
• Understand which aspects of which processes have a business and/or customer facing component and then analyze where the data to complete those processes is sourced and how it is communicated.
Don’t forget to consult with those internal stakeholders who also depend on the information being captured and updated to help determine which processes will benefit the most from mobile. Planning, procurement and finance are good examples of departments that rely on supply chain data to do their jobs. By working with them to understand the benefits they could receive from more accurate and expedited data, you will also be in a better position to get a green light from your CFO.
Lastly, once an ideal candidate process has been identified, roll out a small pilot program with measurable key performance indicators that has a high probability of success. You will have to show demonstrable business benefits if you want to move forward with a more far-reaching effort.
Some of the areas to look at for these initial projects include receiving and inventory, quality assurance, returns management, and manufacturing/WIP.
While inwardly-facing, operations-side mobile deployment can be tightly controlled, cost, security and performance considerations for outwardly-facing business-side apps must be thought through separately. These apps will likely expose a lot of internal functionality to a broad range of people with varying levels of supply chain knowledge and/or technical abilities. This makes issues like ease-of-use, data security, authentication and access controls, and information governance top considerations in these scenarios.
2. Understand Mobile Applications
To properly evaluate the benefits and the risks of mobilizing these processes, you need to look at the way the application is built and deployed, how transactions and data are stored (online vs. on-device), and how the application is delivered (on-premises or SaaS). What we outline below will get you started. First, know that there are two primary types of mobile business-side applications: Web-based (SaaS or cloud) and native (on-device). Web-based applications are typically hosted by a provider but can be hosted on a private cloud that IT runs in-house.
The mobile device acts more like an extension of the server-side application — receiving instructions from and pushing data back to the server in the data center. This option offers lower total-cost-of ownership (TCO) and greater security, but it limits the ability to leverage the device beyond simple data collection.
Native applications, on the other hand, have a higher TCO than Web-based applications, operate on the device, and typically have a better user-interface. Data is not stored locally on the device. One of the big benefits here is if a device is lost, stolen, broken or otherwise compromised, no data is lost. With native mobile applications, data is stored directly on the device which provides for batch processing options as well as remote field data activities when no Wi-Fi access is available. Native applications also provide the ability to leverage additional features of the mobile device, such as a camera or a GPS for field operations.
But don’t base your decision solely on the above information, which leans in favor of a Web-based application. There are other considerations related to how and where the application and device will be used. For example, does the application need to perform when there is no connectivity? Are there secure areas of your facilities where Wi-Fi connectivity — the app’s lifeline back to the data center — is off-limits? Or maybe someone has to go to a remote warehouse or out into a stock yard and place a replenishment order where they won’t have Wi-Fi.
You should also consider the types of devices that will be accessing the application. If you only plan to use one form-factor such as a tablet the user-interface won’t need to be as responsive as if it needs to support multiple device sizes
3. Realize Business Benefits
Now that you know enough to start figuring out which tasks will best benefit from being mobilized, you will need one last piece to convince the skeptics in your organization that mobile is the force multiplier you have been looking for.
Mobile improves the effectiveness and efficiency of processes in several contexts. Internally, it improves the accuracy of data collection and cuts down on the costs of that collection. Exception management processes are enhanced, accelerated and streamlined by enabling anytime/anywhere access to managers. Even employee retention can benefit by providing line workers with the same fast and intuitive technologies they use in their everyday lives.
Externally, mobility enables partners, vendors, suppliers and customers to access near real-time data about shipments, inventory levels, replenishment orders, etc. This improves customer service, cuts down on mundane tasks like manually checking on orders or return authorizations by opening up new communication channels with stakeholders. In the end, this saves time, money and boosts productivity — all from one technology.
For example, by mobile-enabling the order-delivery, documentation and reporting processes, a wholesaler decreased personnel costs and reduced cycle times. Invoicing verification went from nine days to one, and billing-cycle time decreased from a week to three days. They also benefited from reduced error rates, increased data availability and enhanced data quality.
With selective supply chain mobilization, companies can:
• Achieve better and earlier detection of transactional exceptions
• Improve the ability to monitor and confirm the distribution of ordered quantities of the right goods to the correct location at the required time
• Respond faster to customer demands for accurate and up-to-date information
• Enhance information sharing and cross-function collaboration
To anyone watching how mobile is transforming how we live and work, these types of benefits will come as no surprise. According to McKinsey, companies in sectors from automotive and high-tech to retail and consumer packaged goods have come to realize that the supply chain translates corporate strategy into day-to-day interactions both within and beyond the organization. Ultimately, it is the supply chain that satisfies or disappoints their customers.
“Those that succeed are thinking far beyond their organizational boundaries. They are optimizing their supply chains from end to end and are finding new ways to collaborate with both suppliers and customers.” Mobile is one of those ways. It provides for improved data accuracy, increased opportunities for improving communication and collaboration at every level of the organization, and acts as a force multiplier by allowing decision making to happen where and when it needs to happen. So really, the only question you should be asking yourself now is, “When do we get started?”
Source: TAKE Supply Chain
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