I am the Principal Consultant for Logistics and Supply Chain at Proxima, a specialist procurement and supply chain consultancy. We work with some of the largest businesses in the UK and US.
Mobile technology is the use of any mobile device such as a mobile phone, tablet or tracking device within the supply chain. While this may seem an obvious development given the fact that phones and tablets are now a permanent fixture in our lives, the impact of these technologies across the supply chain space has been enormous.
If we look at the freight industry for example, mobile tech is allowing businesses to track and monitor every element of the delivery of a product. Mobile tracking devices in delivery vehicles allow companies to examine the performance of drivers, monitor the routes they are taking, their fuel consumption, and whether they are veering off course unnecessarily. The benefits of this may seem small on an individual level, but when scaled up across an organisation there are huge potential savings and efficiencies that companies can take advantage of.
Other benefits were seen in the vaccine roll-out, where devices monitored the conditions of doses as they were transferred. A similar thing has been seen in food and retail supply chains. Mobile tech allows retailers to ensure that conditions are suitable for transferring certain goods.
Put simply, mobile technology means more data. And more data means more opportunity to drive efficiency at every stage of the supply chain.
Even the smallest weaknesses and opportunities can now be identified and supply chain managers can increase visibility of every different level of the chain.
At a logistical level there are also massive operational efficiencies that can be delivered through mobile technology. In warehousing live data through mobile tech is allowing managers to observe every detail of pick rates, the pick points, and what team leaders need to drive efficiencies at every touchpoint.
Robots in picking and warehousing are one of the key developments, and this is allowing businesses to completely automate entire warehouses.
Heinz for example has introduced an automated warehouse that relies entirely on mobile technologies. Demand is growing rapidly as more businesses see the benefits of this complete automation.
But this is a long-term investment that requires a significant period of implementation, and businesses will need to go through a long transitional period before these become operational.
Speed and quality of data are the essential pillars on which mobile technologies operate, so cloud IoT and 5G are all playing a crucial role in realising the full potential of mobile technologies.
In freight, 5G has the potential to enhance the speed and quality of live data from delivery drivers, which is allowing supply chain managers to drive efficiencies.
IoT is allowing fully automated warehouses to function smoothly and continuously. This will play an increasingly central role as more companies make the shift to automated supply chains.
How do you see mobile tech being used post pandemic?
The pandemic has shown supply chains to be a chronically underinvested area of the business. As a result they’ve risen rapidly up the C-suite’s agenda.
Labour shortages also show no sign of abating. Automation can reduce the need for warehouse staff by up to 80%, so this will be seen by business leaders as a potential solution to such shortages.
New tech introduces myriad new risks and points of weakness to a business, and security is proving an increasingly important issue for all supply chain managers.
We’ve seen instances of hackers attempting to access a businesses’ supply chain data in order to track the movement of goods to intercept, for example.
Many freight businesses will enforce ‘buddy rules’ on their drives, to ensure vehicles are always moving, and that even in the event of data leaks, vehicles are not vulnerable to attack.
The level of security required is extremely high, and even if it’s just in the warehouse, data security has to be front-of-mind for all supply chain managers.
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