The First 3 Steps to a Mobile Supply Chain

The process to tie a mobile Web-based interface or application to your company's enterprise platform or suppliers' systems might seem daunting, but in the long run the move will prove invaluable.

Technology executives are the biggest buyers from a mobile device, with more than two-fifths reporting they use mobile to research transactions greater than $100,000, according to a Forbes Insights and Google survey of 511 executives.

Overall, before making a purchase decision, about 34 percent of senior executives across many industries frequent a supplier's mobile website, and 24 percent do it through mobile applications, the survey found. Some 92 percent expect to spend the same amount of time, or more, on mobile devices to research product purchases in the coming year, and more than a third say they visit sites three or more times looking for information before making a purchase.

The findings certainly suggest a shift in thinking, but what will it take for procurement specialists to run their companies' manufacturing supply chains, from fulfillment to distribution, from smartphones, rather than tablets? The biggest problem: Most B2B websites are not optimized for mobile procurement, manufacturing, and distribution.

I spoke with the Forbes-Google report's lead author, Joe McKendrick, independent analyst and contributor to Forbes Insights, about the first three steps that will help procurement experts take their companies' supply chains mobile.

Taking it mobile
Look at the software vendor community and the functions in its various platforms. Most enterprise resource planning and CRM providers, such as SAP, have begun to integrate mobile features, which will help drive adoption. Many have begun to build out mobile interfaces to support access by extending their products' web interfaces. However, electronics manufacturers need to do a little research to determine whether they should integrate an off-the-shelf product when rolled out, or build a proprietary interface themselves.

Procurement departments also need to decide whether to use a mobile web interface or app. It's something still being worked out across the industry, McKendrick told me. Electronics manufacturers with web interfaces to procurement systems and backend applications will have an easier time building out mobile features and apps, he said.

It's a small leap, compared with web-enablement worked on for the past decade. Aside from being device agnostic, a mobile web interface requires one change, rather than many, to support each specific device application.

It takes a slightly different skill-set to build apps that support a variety of platforms and make them available to specific companies through Google Play or Apple iTunes that will run on Android, iOS, or BlackBerry — especially the Q10, which allows users to segment the phone for work and play.

A mobile website can become as simple to use as an app, with fewer clicks to accomplish tasks with help from built-in predictive analytics. Procurement specialists accessing the platform through a web interface need not worry about the operating system or platform. Apps have limited functions, are simpler to use, and are designed to accomplish a task with one or two clicks. Apps are typically designed around consistent specifications from Google, Apple, or BlackBerry.

Consolidate functions
Connecting smartphones to enterprise applications that let procurement experts control the supply chain will take time and patience. The process won't happen overnight. It means consolidating functions, business intelligence, and plenty of automation and analytics. Whether the company decides to pursue a web-based interface or an app, procurement specialists need a simple experience.

Many manufacturing enterprise systems don't support mobile functions, so procurement specialists need to reexamine the workflow and business processes. Most have been built based on legacy systems. Corporate systems tie together a variety of very complex integrated platforms, and procurement will need to work with IT to build out a middleware layer that supports mobile.

McKendrick admits there's been a lot of work connecting consumers to e-commerce systems, but not manufacturing procurement specialists to enterprise systems to run companies.

Rules for the road
Procurement specialists need to ensure purchasing rules such as who can place orders and which need signoffs. Look at the processes, workflows, and rules engine tied to the procurement process to ensure nothing becomes impeded or off track.

It's also about time that an industry organization step up to put audits and controls in place, similar to lean manufacturing, that can help electronics manufacturers get started. The industry needs to build controls and oversights similar to Sarbanes Oxley into mobile systems.

When industry experts and trade associations work together they can develop a method to help procurement experts work with their IT departments to take their supply chains mobile.

13 comments on “The First 3 Steps to a Mobile Supply Chain

  1. _hm
    August 14, 2013

    It is important for everyone to follow process and there should not be so much of rush to order from mobile. If one does, they waste lots of money and half of items go waste. When it is spending money, following process is very important. This is also true for your home.


  2. ahdand
    August 16, 2013

    @_hm: Yes working according to a plan for anything is very vital. It minimizes the mistakes since you know what you are doing.  

    August 16, 2013

    What is driving this trend?  Are execs working harder and are on the road all the time or are they taking more time off and doing their core work on their cell phones?

  4. t.alex
    August 16, 2013

    This is driven by a few factors: the popularity of smartphones/tablets, the need to constantly use mobile phones while in meetings, or even out of office in social gatherings, for example 🙂

  5. elctrnx_lyf
    August 17, 2013

    What ever is the driving factor, the exexutives will definitely appreciate the simplicity and to be able to access the application from mobie with ease of use and at any time. But this is defijitely going to take a lot of time to get things moving faster towards mobility.

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    August 18, 2013

    _HM, it may be important not to ruch, but there's so much pressure to go mobile. It's everywhere. I think that making mobile part of teh supply chain should be done strategically–and if you don't do it strategically it's going to go on anyway. Pandoras box is open.

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    August 18, 2013

    Good question, @flyingscot, i'm willing to bet it's a combination of both those things, but i can't wait to hear what others have to say.

  8. ahdand
    August 19, 2013

    @Hailey: Yes indeed it's a combination of both. I can join you in confirming that.      

  9. Laurie Sullivan
    August 21, 2013

    Smartphones are becoming more sophisticated, employees are working harder during regular work hours and off hours, and many prefer not to lug around laptops. They would rather make changes to their projects from small devices they carry in their purse or pocket. I do. The best thing about not having to take along a lptop when traveling by plane: TSA doesn't require you to take your smartphone from your purse and put it in a basket on the conveyer belt to x-ray.

  10. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 21, 2013

    As along as the processes are kept the same whether you are operating from your desktop/laptop/tablet or a smart phone , there should not be any harm using mobile phones for the supply chain related activities.

    Using mobile has a distinct advantage of feeling at home while working ,  and feeling at work even while at home, in a restaurant or on a beach.

      Mixing leisure with work is the best advantage that mobile technology offers .

  11. Daniel
    August 21, 2013

    Laurie, now it's the time for apps. Now most of the vendors are developing their own apps for Apple and Android platforms, so that customer can order and track the items from mobile. I personally feels that it's more convenient than placing an order through web. The only issue is with high speed mobile connectivity.

  12. Taimoor Zubar
    August 21, 2013

    “Mixing leisure with work is the best advantage that mobile technology offers .”

    @prabhakar: Yes, mobile technology has ended all physical limitations to an office and you can virtually make any place your office. Employees have the perks of working from places they're most comfortable at. However, whether this really enhances the productivity of an employee is something that's yet to be proven.

  13. Taimoor Zubar
    August 21, 2013

    @Laurie: I think the trend of companies supporting apps available on multiple platforms is in sync with the BYOD culture that many companies are embracing. When they want you to bring a device of your choice to work, they also have to give you the flexibility of working with apps over the cloud that can be run on multiple platforms such as iOS and Android.

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