Mobile Supply Chains: Can They Live Up To The Hype?

Mobile Supply Chain Management (mSCM) is quickly gaining recognition as a game changer for global supply chains. A quick glance at online ERP discussions indicates that most enterprises are still cautious about large scale mSCM adoption. Can mobile applications truly replace on premise solutions? Are mobile supply chains disruptive? While businesses are widely adopting mSCM, the results aren’t visible yet. mSCM solutions are easy to implement but they require making trade-offs which aren’t always clear in the short term.

Integration Challenges:

Restructuring existing supply chains and introducing mobile applications is easier said than done. mSCM applications require cross-functional skillsets from the consultants who will be implementing the applications for businesses. From identifying the gaps between the existing business processes to mapping the functionalities of mSCM applications to these gaps, a thorough knowledge of both domains is necessary for a smooth integration. This challenge was pointed out by researchers from King’s College, London almost a decade ago and there are still issues with a shortage of resources and literature about mSCM in tech circles.

Budget Constraints:

The hardware and applications are a major cost component when it comes to implementing mobile supply chain applications. The shift to modern infrastructure can incur significant costs for businesses and is one of the major reasons for the cautious approach towards the adoption of mobile supply chain applications. Smartphones and tablets are inexpensive compared to computers but the total cost of ownership would increase for businesses. The devices need to last for at least four-to-five years in harsh environments. Executives recognize the benefits of mobile functionality for distribution but are also aware that commercial smartphones might not last in the typical distribution environment.

Workforce Training:

Arming the workforce with the necessary skillset for handling mSCM applications can also become an overhead for enterprises. Enterprises are experimenting with strategies like Voice Picking for training of staff which, although effective, can be expensive. Voice-directed warehousing (VDW) is the use of the voice direction and speech recognition software in warehouses and distribution centers. Although efficient, it requires investment in voice recognition technology which is still an expensive overhead for businesses. The need to buy devices that can withstand the rough distribution environment and training employees to handle those devices is a challenge for enterprises if they are adopting mobile supply chains.

Enter the Cloud:

The cloud is helping bring down the costs for achieving real-time supply chain management and logistics visibility. Cloud implementations increase operating expenditure but bring down the capital expenditure. A safe strategy for enterprises to deploy mobile supply chain applications with the cloud to balance the expenditure. Disruptive technologies have been changing business models worldwide and enterprises who have adopted cloud computing with tools like cloud ERP supply chains are surviving the volatile marketplace. Mobile supply chain applications have their own set of advantages and opportunity costs. For now, enterprises are implementing these emerging technologies on an as-needed basis instead of blindly embracing the trend.

All Hype And No Results?

2017 could become the year where mobile supply chain applications move beyond the hype and deliver the results. Though It is still premature to evaluate the effectiveness of these applications. Integration logistics with on premise ERPs are still challenging enterprises around the world and there are no best practices in the industry that could be emulated by consultants for hassle-free implementations. Mobile supply chain applications may help optimize supply chain processes but it is too early to conclude that they will radically disrupt logistics, resource management and distribution. For now, it is a time of scrutiny and observation with a positive forecast on the results.

Image from http://www.supplychaindigital.com/logistics/4376/State-of-the-nation:-Supply-chain-organisations-need-to-improve-their-mobile-technologies-report-finds

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