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.
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.