I recently purchased an Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad and must admit that I’ve been blown away by this device. It’s not merely the iPad’s advertised functionality, but more the opportunities and possibilities the iPad enables in the future -- and where this technology might take us.
The entire world of mobile applications has been a new experience for me. Since my iPad purchase, I’ve downloaded my fair share of apps; some are amazing, while many are mediocre or worse. But what’s really caught my attention with some of the better apps is the intuitiveness and ease with which information can be consumed. These apps, and the device itself, are user-friendly to all types of people and not solely for the technology-centric community.
Naturally, being a supply chain guy, I started to wonder how this technology could be leveraged, and how the growing area of commercial apps, versus consumer apps, might apply to the supply chain. Logically, commercial apps (e.g., sales force automation) that support a remote and mobile sales force are intuitive to most of us who have used a mobile device, but what about the more complex and specialized area of supply chain management?
Over the past few weeks at various cocktail parties, industry conferences, and meetings with clients and colleagues, I broached this topic and partook in many lively discussions. The question I posed was: “How could the iPad and mobile applications be applied to improve supply chain performance?”
Yes I know what you’re thinking... I must be a hit at cocktail parties. The conversation generally started with how supply chain information could be consumed and disseminated more easily. One example was conveyed to me by a kitchen appliance distributor in California that armed its entire sales team with iPads and an inventory app. When an account manager is meeting with customers, he or she can quickly and easily look up inventory quantities and locations across the entire supply chain in real time.
The same app is also being used by their field technicians with spare parts inventory to improve service and repair performance. On the surface, this may seem very trivial: We as supply chain practitioners look up inventory positions all the time, and we can slice and dice that information in many different ways -- and we do.
What’s different here is this information is being pulled by non-supply chain practitioners -- employees without any formal SAP, Oracle, JDA, or BI training. In fact, there’s no training required at all. There are no complex reports, filters, hierarchies, elaborate spreadsheets, and certainly no requests to IT for a customized report. It is a simple and an effective way to get supply chain information to the people who need it.
Another point in my discussions centered on how supply chain performance information could be gathered. Instead of "read only" apps like the one I described above, what about "read and write" apps? The elusive last mile of the supply chain, stock-outs and shelf performance, and retail promotion execution were all addressed, too. With more and more everyday people getting mobile devices and apps (and Apple isn’t the only player here, obviously), could “crowdsourcing” be a mechanism to help the supply chain? Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing a task or activity via an open request to a large group or community for information.
These conversations generated even more questions. Could a crowd (e.g., end consumers) be motivated via mobile apps to report retail shelf stock-outs in the supply chain? What about factories with thousands of employees or warehousing and distribution operations? How could mobile apps be used more efficiently than existing commercial handheld technologies to address supply chain performance?
I’m very intrigued by the possibilities of the developing mobile app space and how this technology may address some of the challenges facing supply chains. Consumers may one day soon play a more important role in the supply chain, not only as the inherent buyer, but also as the “crowd” that helps deliver information into the supply chain and ultimately shapes a supply chain’s performance.
What do you think?
This is my first blog submission with EBN, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts and insights with you, as well as reading your comments and engaging in lively discussions.