The Future of Mobile Apps in the Supply Chain

Mobile applications will overtake the buying process when it comes to electronics and all other products through downloadable applications that sit on tablets and smartphones. Lucky to have a wide view of the mobile industry outside of electronics and engineers, I can climb out on a tree limb and predict that buyers procuring raw materials will do so through tablets and mobile devices during meetings, while traveling, and at other times with help from applications specifically designed by the companies providing the goods. A downloadable app that works well for ordering, price checking, sorting, and the distribution of goods throughout the supply chain locks in the buyer to that specific company.

Any company not taking advantage of the opportunity to design this type of application — which might work like a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, or a video game through a software as a service (SaaS) platform — will miss a huge opportunity to capture market share.

The electronics supply chain led the trend towards mobile applications catering for warehouse inventory systems. When addressing tablets and smartphones and other mobile devices with advertising executives, I often reference electronics companies and the move towards monitoring inventory on mobile devices. The trend has begun to show up among consumers as they move their use of email, Internet browsing, and social networking from PCs to tablets. And as a consequence, consumer PC use continues to decline, according to The NPD Group’s Evolving Technology Trends report released last week.

In fact, 30 percent of tablet owners participating in the survey said they are emailing and browsing the Internet less on their PCs, and 28 percent said they use social networking features less. Of the 2,400 consumers participating in the December 2010 survey, 35 percent of the smartphone owners said they shifted email consumption from their computers to their phones. Internet browsing and social networking have not yet made as much of an impact, but the NPD report suggests tablet owners are headed in that direction.

I'm not a huge tablet fan, yet. My iPad, a novelty at first, now sits connected to the Google TV in the living room with a variety of movies from Apple iTunes downloaded on it. Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group, told me the device of choice is moving towards the tablet. He said the experience of searching the Internet on a phone is still more difficult, and an application would improve the experience. But at least for the foreseeable future, people will still have the mindset of searching the Internet, rather than the app store.

Remember how the Palm organizer with the attachable keyboard was supposed to revolutionize mobile devices? Palm users could type on the fold-up qwerty keyboard or connect it to an accessory that provided more space for fingers to type. Still, the virtual keyboard gets mixed reviews. Baker says other NPD data suggests sales of keyboards for tablets continue to rise.

The biggest problem: Cellular service on mobile tablets lacks growth. 60 percent of tablets purchased have Wi-Fi; 40 percent have 3G. Of those consumers purchasing tablets with 3G service, only about half activate it, according to The NPD Group.

To spur growth among consumers, cellular carriers will need to offer options for multiple devices in a household or per consumer. Personally, I have four devices that have cellular models built in. My smartphone is the only activated device, but I would love to activate them all. It's more about cost than anything else — one price for service, no matter how many devices. Baker says it's something the carriers realize they need to provide. And though he doesn't believe it will increase adoption, I do. The NPD data suggests about 80 percent of people who buy tablets use them in their homes. Yes, that's because they don't want to pay the cellular fee for another device.

Meanwhile, 68 percent of consumers said they are very satisfied with the Internet experience on tablets; 67 percent with email; and 60 percent with social networking. Smartphone users are less satisfied when it comes to those three important tasks. 59 percent of smartphone owners said they are very satisfied with email; 49 percent with social networking; and 42 percent with browsing the Internet.

15 comments on “The Future of Mobile Apps in the Supply Chain

  1. Taimoor Zubar
    February 24, 2011

    I think the key concept here is the use of cloud computing which, like several other enterprise applications, has also contributed towards supply chain applications and is the base behind the mobile apps for enterprise. Cloud computing simply pushes the data storage and processing back on the servers while the users only access and update the information via internet. The users do not require any storage on their devices and they get access to real-time data.

    The greatest benefit here is flexibility. The users are no longer confined to use to their laptops/desktops to browse the information. They can access the same data on their mobile and tablet devices. Another key advantage is the real-time information. If data is stored on the user's devices, it constantly needs to be updated. With the data coming from internet, it's all real-time information.

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 24, 2011

    I think you are right, Laurie, there's opportunity here. The real success is going to be the app that takes all the disparate data from all the suppliers and distributors you do business with and make it manageable (as you say, like an Excel spreadsheet.)

  3. Jay_Bond
    February 24, 2011

    I think you hit this one dead on. There is plenty of room for growth through apps for any of the Smartphone operating systems. This would make things a lot easier than doing work on the browser. I think you are also right about the changes needed in order to use these devices on the cellular networks. If the carriers would allow you to combine multiple units into a package that is not extremely overpriced and charge you based on your use, more people would sign up. As things are getting more competitive and more products are available, these companies need to set themselves apart.

  4. itguyphil
    February 24, 2011

    I call it BI on the fly. Imagine a site, like, where you could login from anywhere and have real-time updated supplier information from all over the world. That would be amazing. The major road-block I see is that the owners would NOT want to share their data with anyone (especially not competitors).

  5. AnalyzeThis
    February 24, 2011

    While I'm skeptical about tablets, I will say that SaaS has helped me be so much more mobile and productive outside the office.

    I'm not sure what form factor I'll be using to do work while on the road in the coming years, but I do know that things will only get easier.

    It wasn't that long ago that even going to a meeting in a conference room meant leaving your bulky tower PC at your desk and picking up a legal pad to take notes. Now it's easy to stay connected, even without dragging a laptop around.

    And I'd certainly take a tablet over a legal pad.

  6. mfbertozzi
    February 24, 2011

    Yes, it is. MobApps and Saas paradigm are making life and tasks to perform (related also to supplier and procurement) more easier. Next piece of the puzzle: how many are aware of mob apps available to do something? We still  need to “google” or catch rumors, so is it realistic to conceive a sort of pervasive ads to alert in advance users on apps “on demand” to process just in time?

  7. tioluwa
    February 25, 2011

    Well, everything is changing, getting better, but i totally agree with Laurie, its totally pointless to have to subscribe to different mobile services for various mobile devices. they're all mobile aren't they?


    If a single mobile service can be implemeted on all mobile services, with ACTIVE SYNC between them, then things will make a whole lot of sense.

  8. Nemos
    February 25, 2011

    “The trend has begun to show up among consumers as they move their use of email, Internet browsing, and social networking from PCs to tablets”

    Yes but … consider my father who is about 60 years old and I can tell you he is an advance PC user , Trying to use a mobile phone to sent email , with this little keypad and if he is lucky with qwerty key pad , trying to read with this small screen ……. So yes the trend has begun , but not for all.

  9. Anand
    February 25, 2011

    Laurie Sullivan,

      Nice post. I totally agree with the point that “the experience of searching the Internet on a phone is still more difficult, and an application would improve the experience ” . Infact i personally like to follow the news feeds through an app rather than browsing through website. I am not sure if appstore can fully mimic the webbrowsing capabilities. One big challenge I feel is availability mutliple OS. Once the OS for mobile industry consolidates, I am sure pace of app development  will pick up.

  10. saranyatil
    February 27, 2011

    EXactly!!! Barbara this is going to be a big market in the future and later will become free downloadable on the internet.

  11. Ashu001
    February 27, 2011


    You touched a critical issue(which is a major beef with most users like me too)..

    “The biggest problem: Cellular service on mobile tablets lacks growth. 60 percent of tablets purchased have Wi-Fi; 40 percent have 3G. Of those consumers purchasing tablets with 3G service, only about half activate it, according to The NPD Group.

    The thing is these features are nice to have ,but as they are currently priced are unaffordable for majority of Western consumers today.So these carriers have a choice,either they bring down the price they charge for these services or lose prospective customers to upstarts to figure out and seize the situation better than the goliaths in the carrier space[Who are more interested in protecting their gigantic profit margins,than in innovation or providing customers with quality products at lowest possible prices].



  12. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 28, 2011

    I think instead of we, the mobile users worrying about how to download multiple applications from differnet vendors, let our business ERP handle it. If we keep our interface with the world through our  business ERP server, the associated ERP will implement all the required interfaces so that you with your mobile could access all the business related decision support information in the required format and detail. For the personal applications like news feed, music streaming etc we are free to do our own things. The ERP vendors have much work to do here to make our jobs mobile.


  13. Taimoor Zubar
    February 28, 2011

    I agree with you in this that instead of scattered and standalone apps, the centralized enterprise systems or ERPs should support the access to data via mobiles and other devices. I think all major ERP vendors such as SAP and Oracle already have mobile versions of their clients which allow the users to access the organization's enterprise systems. It becomes much easier for IT staff to handle this and also makes it a lot more secure.

  14. seel225
    February 28, 2011

    I am very sure Mobile app usage continues to grow as smartphone usage grows. I generally love mobile apps rathar than browsing on the internet for some information like finding location, reaturants and reading news. Presently there are millions of mobile apps available in the market it is hard to find which app does what, sometimes internet browsing gives good results than apps. Because of many competitors and increasing usage of mobile app users the rate of mobile apps has gone bit down and it will continue.

  15. martin.greg65
    April 18, 2011

    I was a little disapointed that an article on mobile apps in the Supply Chain did not cite more real world examples of companies leveraging this new technology. How are they being used in logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and not just by front line personel but also by executives. It basically just spoke to the overall trend of people trading in their PC's for tablets and the corresponding increasing in the download of apps. Could you suggest a good source for me to read up on this further. I am very interested to see how companies are adapting. 



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