COVID-19 has disrupted every industry at every scale — supply chain included. The pandemic all but eradicated traditional in-person relationships, and with many on-location team members now working remotely, keeping everyone synced is an even more daunting task.
The entire face of team communications has changed, escalating the need for alternate ways to communicate with the growing mobile workforce. With more supply-chain organizations realizing the higher ROI associated with the virtual work environment, the business case for virtual teams has become overwhelmingly apparent, enabling organizations to cut costs, leverage global talent, increase productivity and generate higher profits.
Virtual teams improve the bottom line of the business. But before the organizations reap benefits of virtual project teams, they have to determine the supporting drivers for communications and practices which are critical for success.
Mobile team communications apps are fast becoming the go-to solution across the spectrum, from small retail businesses to major ecommerce enterprises. App features are more comprehensive than ever with integrated augmented reality, artificial intelligence and mixed-reality programs, as well as text chats, audio calls, video conferencing, file and screen sharing, discussion threads, forums and more, all combined into one communications hub.
Mobile apps offer a multitude of benefits to the supply-chain industry. The ability to instantly communicate with suppliers and vendors improves overall supply-chain coordination, particularly when it comes to inventory and distribution activities. Centralized data storage creates time-stamped records of all communications between suppliers, team members and so forth, and allows managers to track and monitor messages and attachments. Many apps feature multi-device support for seamless messaging across any device with web access. With the multitude of app options available today, the key is determining which functions will best address supply-chain organizational needs.
However, some members of the supply-chain industry have highly specific processes and require more customized communications interfaces, particularly in manufacturing. The emergence of no-code/low-code development platforms (LCDP) have made it possible for users to accelerate delivery of custom applications.
No-code development platforms have been especially powerful, putting robust tools in the hands of workers on the factory floor. Working with easy to use modular development platforms, these “citizen developers” can create meaningful workplace applications with zero coding experience or background. For example, one worker-developed communications application is still being used for reporting unsafe workplace conditions. This application enables floor employees to instantly report dangerous situations from a smartphone, which then is immediately sent as a text message to the supervisor. Mobile accessibility is a driving factor behind the use of LCDP apps, which allow workers to tap into on-premise or cloud data from a mobile device.
Though they can be deployed on virtually any platform, third-party servers are undoubtedly more vulnerable to security threats. Where security and compliance risks are a concern and privacy is essential to protecting sensitive information, there are communication apps that can be self-hosted on a company’s own servers and integrated directly to the user interface rather than through a third-party server. That said, some third-party providers do offer advanced device-to-device encryption to ensure the security of data transmitted between devices. When using third parties, it is important to verify these suppliers are not only maintaining sufficient security systems themselves, but are also holding any outsourced or remote teams they may employ to the same security standards.
Communication lags can cause a myriad of problems across a logistics company’s supply chain, decreasing output and increasing costs. Timely communication between suppliers, customers and the workers who make the entire supply-chain system move is paramount to meet demand. To this end, solutions that provide live voice messaging in real time optimize operations.
Team apps that offer a Walkie Talkie feature enable push-to-talk (PTT) to transmit instant voice messages to colleagues — either one-to-one, or one-to-many groups — without risk of cross-talk or eavesdropping, while also reducing the number of devices workers carry and cutting I.T. costs. Feature-rich apps also allow users to track locations, trigger alerts in critical situations, coordinate logistics and quickly resolve issues.
Traditional private radio and land mobile radio (LMR) networks often require significant up-front capital expenditures. The spike in mobile workforces is driving explosive growth in push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) for wide-area communications due to the low operational expenditure for startup and subscription-based services.
PTT apps are modeled after walkie talkies, and run on both desktop and mobile devices alongside dispatch software. PoC provides the same capabilities as traditional two-way radio systems and enables instant group calls to multiple users. With the press of a PTT button, drivers can connect with a dispatcher without chatter or channel crowding. Because PoC leverages existing LTE cellular and ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks, systems can be deployed more quickly with no infrastructure required.
PoC network services can also be located on privately hosted servers using gateway routers to provide connectivity between the LTE network and the PoC server. Another approach is unified communications (UC) platforms, which integrate diverse radio systems with PoC and PTT over Wi-Fi into one centralized ecosystem.
PoC devices such as radios and smartphones are purpose built for professional communications as compact, rugged, easy-to-operate handheld devices. Digital mobile radios (DMR) with advanced features can support PoC functions, including instant group calling, GPS location tracking and emergency notifications.
Enterprise models of ruggedized smartphones now have programmable buttons that support PTT communication and integrate with walkie talkie apps. For example, retailers can use programmable buttons to enable scanning capabilities or POS payments.
For harsher work environments like industrial settings, there are PoC devices tested for durability in extreme temperatures, low pressure, and high vibration, along with IP ratings for water and dust resistance. Some devices even offer enhanced touch or enlarged buttons for warehouse employees who are required to wear gloves while working.
Many team communication apps are compatible with hands-free PTT accessories, including headsets and Bluetooth adaptors, which not only keep drivers from being distracted, but allows freedom of movement when operating machinery, loading trucks, and a host of other physical tasks. A single button push connects drivers with dispatch or workers with team members, which is ideal for warehousing, logistics and transportation companies, or businesses with vehicle fleets.
There are a vast array of accessories available that augment audio and voice quality, from waterproof headsets to throat mics and earmuffs for high noise environments like manufacturing plants. However, few accessory manufacturers specialize in making affordable professional-grade products that far surpass most low-cost alternatives. Of course, these days hygiene is also a primary concern, which is why experienced makers offer swappable accessories specifically designed for individual or one-time use.
Now more than ever, supply-chain executives are striving to raise team communications to a higher level while also reducing expenses. They are demanding simpler, more cost effective solutions that are also dependable and backed by strong support are critical to ensure smooth operations and optimal teamwork. Mobile communication platforms, PTT networks, devices and accessories are solutions that answer the call, providing supply-chain teams with communications capabilities that will endure.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.