Use of mobile technology in Supply Chain has seen rapid growth in the past five years. Today, many organisations are exploring wireless solutions or methods of gaining greater value from existing wireless infrastructure.  The addition and integration of wireless to specialised “back end” Supply Chain software packages such as Route Scheduling and Execution or Dock Appointment Scheduling is providing significant and measurable benefits to the industry.

The Internet has matured as a stable and secure method of opening lines of communication. Improved wireless-to-web technology, the availability of more robust wireless devices, combined with decreasing price points for hardware, software and data, translates into a much greater return on investment.

This gives logistics operations the capability to; see where resources are in the field, whether those resources are working to plan, what the impact of changes have on upcoming tasks and allow operations to proactively manage their resources as opposed to traditional reactive management structure. Ken Wood, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, at Descartes Systems Group said at a recent Supply Chain Conference “With mobile dispatch and status combined with GPS tracking, logistics companies can cut kilometres, idle time whilst increasing customer service via improved shipment visibility”. When there is improved management capability in this logistics part of the supply chain, a company can also improve other areas of the business, such as reducing the cycle time for billing.

Real-time visibility provides predictability and empowers dispatchers, customer service representatives, and even executive management to provide immediate information and feedback to drivers and/or the end customer. Real time visibility allows managers to monitor all driver activity, from stops, departures and breaks, to timecards and kilometres, as well as onboard inventory. The flexibility of wireless communications means operators can gain greater control of their resources, regardless of whether it is their own, or contracted through third party suppliers.

In addition to improving management of field resources, the combining of wireless technologies and Supply Chain packages such as web based Dock Appointment Scheduling can increase the efficiencies in onsite operations.  With warehousing operations already embracing wireless technologies, the addition of web based applications which manage timeslot generation can be combined easily to provide real-time information on factors such as vehicle arrivals, departures and overall dock performance. This functionality can also provide real time information for the management of Chain of Responsibility requirements.

The Right Wireless Infrastructure

Selecting the right wireless infrastructure for the job is not a trivial task. There are countless wireless infrastructures available in the market offering varying levels of functionality. The decision is ultimately driven by operational and application requirements, functionality and network compatibility. Partnering with an experienced provider in this area is critical. Domain expertise and track record of successful implementation will ensure the desired results for operations.

The Technology Behind the Communications

Deciding on a communications device is only part of the equation. Consideration must also be paid to the supporting technology and applications that support them. For many operators today, a Web-based service or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provides a faster time-to value.

A SaaS solution leverages the power of the Internet to cost-effectively deliver rich logistics functionality on demand through a subscription-based model. It is an affordable alternative for companies that require a full-featured logistics application, yet want to eliminate the costs of purchasing, integrating, maintaining and supporting installed hardware and software.

Since it is offered on a pay-as-you-go subscription basis, a SaaS solution allows users to only pay for the service as they use it, and can be scaled up or down to meet changing needs. In addition, subscription based services do not require up-front capital costs on the part of the user.
A web-based service can typically be rapidly deployed and includes the necessary operational
support for the solution, including hardware infrastructure, software, security, systems integration and Internet costs and technical support staff.

These new services have been developed to interact directly with wireless devices – from smart phones
to handheld devices.

As a Web-based service, they can integrate with a user’s existing technology infrastructure and provide easy access for multiple authorised users within the supply chain – from customers to dispatchers to customer service. In addition, the user interface is intuitive and can be easily mastered with little training.

On-demand services are not just about technology. They also manage a business process, combining comprehensive logistics capabilities with a variety of business process applications that can be customised to address users’ specific requirements.

Some Challenges

Supply Chain mobile technology (like any other technology) requires integration with systems and workforce policies and practices. The “systems” portion of the integration has been surprisingly straightforward, most ERP and standalone logistics management systems provide industry-standard application programming interfaces (APIs) that mobile devices already work with.

An area of greater challenge for companies with supply chains has been gaining the level of employee acceptance for mobile supply chain technology that employees perceive can also threaten the right to privacy.  The “Change Management” requirements must be addressed to ensure successful implementation of the technology.

Regardless of the challenges, combining wireless communications with Web-based logistics services is one way that operators can keep pace with the growing demand for efficiency – without the time, cost and effort of proprietary solutions.