Previously I outlined a few rules for taking your supply chain mobile. One of the recent requests I’ve received is to provide some quick steps to determine what tasks are best enabled through mobile devices and what are best kept at the desktop. This is an especially timely subject for mid-market companies evaluating investments in their supply chain technology.
While the buzz around mobile transactions is currently high, it shouldn’t be considered as a check-box exercise when evaluating solutions. Mobility for the sake of mobility doesn’t make financial or operational sense. To really deliver value, mobile transactions should be a tangible, measurable part of an overall improvement strategy for your supply chain operations.
“Mobility for the sake of mobility doesn’t make financial or operational sense…”
Operational vs. Business Mobile Transactions
The initial step is to identify what areas of your supply chain operations can benefit most from mobile transactions.
We typically break these into two groups: operations and business. We’ll start first with operations (data collection via hand held scanners in areas such as receiving, the shop room floor, warehouse and shipping). Mobility for these activities has been around for more than two decades and is fairly mature. In fact, the performance requirements for mobile operational tasks are so well established that companies with fully mature mobile data collection solutions measure productivity down to the second.
Visit our Gemini Series webpage to learn more about how we handle mobile data collection.
It’s probably safe to say that you already have a few handheld scanners on your receiving dock and in your warehouse. That said, it’s a good idea to periodically revisit your mobile data collection strategy. This helps to ensure you’re getting the most from each work position, as well as leveraging the right tools and equipment to support them.
A good exercise for evaluating and fine tuning your existing mobile transactions is a regularly scheduled process study. This identifies areas of wasted productivity in all tasks (mobile and desktop) along with activities that contribute to errors. Often times, the results identify areas to expand the use of mobile transactions to minimize both.
Mobile Transactions to Improve Operations
One opportunity for expanding mobility to improve operations that we uncovered for a mid-market customer a short while back was mobile/wireless label printing. At the time, they were pre-printing materials labels at a workstation based on received shipments, and having workers apply the labels after the materials had been placed in their warehouse location.
The division of tasks and processes looked good on paper, but what actually happened was that the workers doing the labeling periodically had difficulty accurately matching the label to the item and often times had to return to the workstation for more information.
They also found they often had too many pre-printed labels (which they had to destroy), or in some cases they would run out and have to return to the workstation to print more. As a result, label waste increased, inventory counts continued to be at an unacceptable level of accuracy (put-away and labeling were separated and there would sometimes be as much as a 5 day delay between the two tasks), and labor clock time increased because of the extra trips back and forth to the workstation.
The solution was to expand the use of handheld scanners in the warehouse so put-away and labeling tasks could be combined. Wireless printing carts were also incorporated so labels could be output in the correct quantities and applied accurately in the same task session. All three problem areas (label waste, inventory errors and wasted labor) registered tangible improvement within 30 days.
Evaluating Mobile Transactions
Here are some quick steps for evaluating mobile transactions for operations:
- Perform a process study for your existing mobile and desktop transactions.
- Screen for unnecessary movement/trips to retrieve information or perform tasks.
- Evaluate the amount of aging between tasks or tasks that are divided across workers (such as receiving and labeling above, where receiving had hand held scanners and labeling did not.)
- Pull in other stakeholders who also depend on the information being captured and updated. This could be areas such as planning, procurement and finance. Work with them to understand the time and cost savings they would have with more accurate and expedited data.
- Identify the top candidate area for improvement and roll out a pilot program with predefined success measurements.
In addition to receiving and inventory, here are some other areas to consider for a mobile process study of operations tasks:
- Quality Assurance
- Returns Management
The above should help you to get started evaluating your mobile data collection inside the four walls. In part 2, I’ll discuss mobile supply chain transactions for business tasks (which includes those outside the four walls). This is an especially interesting and popular area that is still emerging. If you approach it without the hype, you can make good, solid decisions that will improve productivity (and margin) in the short term and have you well positioned to leverage more mobile tools as you grow your business.
Contact us if you would like to discuss how mobile transactions could improve your supply chain operations.