Even just a couple of years back, when you bought something on the Internet, tracking progress on your order involved logging in to vendors and carriers separately. The process time was several days between steps. The advent of linked applications and mobile communications has sped this up dramatically while making tracking nearly seamless. Buy something in Europe or China today, and you'll likely be able to track where it is and when it will deliver using your phone -- and from one site.
Mobile devices are impacting logistics everywhere in the chain. Dell published a whitepaper that claims the percentage of revenue used for IT spending at manufacturing companies is nearly twice the average. The biggest impact is in building mobile systems for tracking, improving decision making, and generally improving both North-South (vendor-customer) and East-West (peer and interdepartmental) communications.
Having a mobile device to enter requirements can cut substantial time from processes like parts ordering on the factory floor. The historical method of walking over to purchasing and asking it to create a requisition is giving way to forms-driven request flows, with a resulting reduction in flow time for the order and a substantial improvement in accuracy.
RFID tags are speeding up inventory management and improving accuracy. The use of the tags for serial number IDs and product IDs allows faster processing of returns and improves WIP tracking and quality reporting. Inventory taking becomes a cinch, too. The tallies are right in front of the counter, who can check for accuracy right on the spot. This alone improves and shortens the process.
A major boost attributable in large part to mobile communications is occurring in the trucking industry. What used to be a hit-and-miss process with mainly small shippers has become a cooperative, high-tech industry, where job bidding, route optimization, delivery tracking, and vehicle positions are all handled via phone systems. This has resulted in a substantial reduction in partial load and empty truck miles, and it has allowed truckers to focus more on faster delivery and operational quality.
Mobile systems really mean data at your fingertips today. There's no longer a need to consult with someone at the other end of the factory or to get a file from your desk. The data is available through the phone portal, ranging from information you've created at your desk to data from the ERP system.
Much of today's IT task is to ensure the easy availability of data in a form that's readily assimilated. Presentation of reports and database extracts need to be designed interactively with the users to achieve maximum value. This becomes a way of life for the coding or app configuration side of IT.
Logistics impacts go way beyond the factory, of course. Providing a rapid response method for a salesperson to query availability and commit lead times will definitely increase sales. Having shipment data and quality statistics in hand will improve a quality inspector's response during on-site inspections. Floor supervisors can get process statistics anywhere they are standing, saving a great deal of time and improving reaction quality and speed.
Even company deliveries are impacted in many ways. Accuracy from the RFID system can reduce wrong package delivery, and its corollary allows the customer to sign off on the goods and update proof-of-delivery status in the tracking system.
With access to CRM via mobile devices, the sales team has up-to-the-minute data sheets that can be emailed instantly to a customer. Being able to look at customer history makes it possible to appear focused and responsive to the customer's needs, helping the relationship along.
The bottom line is that the mobile revolution is pervasive in the logistics chain, and the impact is crucial to taking a leadership role in any business segment.