In our last blog post on leveraging mobile devices in the supply chain, we focused on the complexity, type and urgency of tasks. While the instinct may be to attempt to migrate all desktop activities to mobile devices, there is actually a risk of reducing productivity with this approach. Each device (desktop, tablet and smart phone) is best suited for specific types of tasks.
Recent advances in enterprise mobile application and user-interface design have helped to narrow the gap, but there is still much distance to close in delivering a logical level of task parity between desktop and mobile devices. Stay tuned as TAKE Supply Chain is working to move the bar in this area.
“Each device (desktop, tablet and smart phone) is best suited for specific types of tasks…”
Cost, security and performance
Consideration of what tasks and activities are best for your supply chain operations is only one part of the equation. There are also cost, security and performance considerations that tie directly into how your mobile supply chain application is deployed. Not surprisingly, there are a growing number of providers entering into mobile supply chain application development.
However, prior to evaluating their solutions, it is important to identify your key deployment requirements. There are a number of areas in which to evaluate that are directly related to how you will be using mobile devices within your supply chain work flow.
Some of the major areas are:
- the way the application is built and deployed,
- how transactions and data are stored (online vs. offline) and
- how the application is delivered (on-premise or SaaS).
Below I have outlined some top considerations related to mobile application deployment to help you get started.
4 Critical Considerations for Mobile Application Deployment
1. Not all apps are created equal.
There are two primary types of mobile applications, web-based and native.
Web-based applications are typically hosted on a server. The mobile device acts more like an extension of the server application, receiving instructions and pushing data to the server. This option offers a lower TCO and greater security, but also has a very limited ability to leverage the device beyond a straight data collection tool.
Native applications, which have a higher TCO than web-based applications, operate as ‘thick clients.’ They are installed directly on the device and can typically be designed with a better user-interface. With native mobile applications, data can be stored directly on the mobile device, providing for greater batch processing flexibility (see below). Native applications also provide the ability to leverage additional features of the mobile device, such as a camera or a GPS for field operations.
Web-Based Applications – Lower TCO, Higher Security
- No client installed on mobile device
- Delivered through a mobile browser
- Browser and device agnostic
- Single code base regardless of device
- No business data stored on device
- No use of device hardware like camera or GPS
Native Applications – Greater TCO, Lower Security
- Thick client installed on device
- Data stored on device
- Richer UI experience
- Multiple clients required based on OS & form factor (iOS, Android, phone, tablet, etc.)
- Device agnostic
- Can leverage camera, GPS & other device hardware
2. Do you want your mobility with or without connectivity?
Before basing your decision solely on the above information – which leans in the direction of a web-based application, there are other considerations related to how and where the application/device will be used. For example, does the application need to perform when there is no connectivity?
“The requirement to capture, store and deliver batch data without connectivity can readily outweigh any cost savings a web-based application may deliver.”
Perhaps there are highly restricted sections of your warehouse that prohibit wireless networks (we have a couple of these clients) or you have a need to capture field materials consumption or field break/fix data in areas with unreliable cellular or wireless network signals. The requirement for the application and device to capture, store and deliver batch data without connectivity can readily outweigh any cost savings a web-based application may deliver.
Continuous connectivity for operation
- Must always have server connectivity to perform tasks – Cannot be considered in rural areas or locations where there is no wireless infrastructure.
- Provides ability to perform near real-time validations and near real-time posts
- Ability to continue processing transactions despite of being disconnected to main server. Useful in remote locations and areas with poor wireless signals.
- Requires data synchronization with backend to continue performing validations even when backend server is offline
- Ability for batch processing
3. Can you live in the cloud?
A third area of consideration is where the application is delivered, namely, is it something hosted within your IT department on-premise, or can it be hosted in the cloud? A major determining factor can center on security requirements. Cloud-delivered applications have come a long way in security, however there is still not parity with on-premise application delivery. If you don’t have restrictive security requirements, it can then become a more cost-centered decision based on current IT resources (both human and hardware).
On-Premise hosted application
- Higher cost of ownership
- Internal IT systems/application administration
- Higher licensing costs
- Higher level of data security
SaaS hosted application
- Lower initial cost of ownership
- External provider systems/application administration
- Lower licensing or subscription-based pricing
- Lower level of data security
4. Will this be tablet only, or tablet and smartphone?
Another quick area of consideration to keep in mind is the types of devices that will be accessing the application. If you only plan to use one form factor (such as a tablet), the UI won’t need to be as responsive as if it needs to support multiple device sizes. The text size, graphics and page layout are very different between a desktop, a tablet and a smart phone. As an example, USA Today does a good job with this. Planning for the application to understand and respond to the device screen size not only improves usability, it can reduce the cost of development and application upgrades over time.
Mobile – a step at a time
As we learned in our recent survey of supply chain professionals, mobile deployment in supply chains may be less prevalent than many in the industry previously assumed. That gives us all time to ensure that mobile deployment is approached thoughtfully and strategically, to ensure smart investments in technology that truly fit your business needs and lead to a more agile, and valuable, supply chain. In the meantime, check out TAKE’s info sheet on mobile visibility and control.