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Does Supply Chain have a Mobile Problem?

From Supply Chain Quarterly, Published on August 29, 2016

A recent survey finds that mobile apps and websites fall short of meeting the needs of most supply chain decision makers.

Although a large majority of companies in the supply chain industry have implemented a mobile website or application, only a few are satisfied with the results, according to a recent survey by mobile application developer PointSource. PointSource defines the supply chain industry as companies that provide assets, services, or supplies to another company within a distribution channel, according to Stephanie Trunzo, chief operating officer and chief digital officer.

Almost 300 marketing and information technology (IT) professionals in the retail, insurance, finance, and supply chain industries responded to the survey, with 19% coming from the supply chain industry.

The survey found that 71% of respondents classified as being in the supply chain industry have a mobile app and 81% have a mobile website (websites designed for small screens, such as those used by smartphones and tablets). Supply chain apps and mobile websites could be used, for example, to keep an accurate record of inventory, track shipments, scan bar codes, or suggest more efficient delivery routes. However, one-fourth of companies in the supply chain industry that have an app or mobile website do not use it to handle everyday tasks and projects, and only one in 10 rated their existing mobile presence as "excellent." The survey results are published in PointSource's "The State of the Mobile Experience" report .

According to the survey, the retail and finance industries are further ahead than the supply chain industry both in terms of developing engaging mobile applications and websites and in creating an overall digital strategy. While it is true that there are many differences between the supply chain industry and the retail and finance industries, Trunzo believes supply chain can learn a lot from how the other two design their mobile applications, especially when it comes to user friendliness.

In general, supply chain organizations are more interested in apps and websites that improve the efficiency and optimization of processes like inventory management, shipment tracking, or field-service management, while retail and finance companies are much more focused on user engagement or client acquisition, says Trunzo. However, she believes that supply chain companies need to take what retailers and finance companies have learned about engaging end customers and apply those techniques to better engage the humans involved in supply chain processes. Well-designed applications and websites can help supply chain participants change their behavior so that they create more or a different kind of value for the overall supply chain, she says.

To better engage supply chain users, the study recommends that companies develop apps that address the top four pain points within the supply chain. According to the survey, these are: managing inventory (identified as a pain point by 54% of supply chain respondents), quality assurance (52%), inefficient processes (48%), and outdated information (33%).

In particular, 88% of supply chain respondents said they would be interested in applications and mobile websites that helped them with logistics management, which includes such activities as shipment tracking, warehouse management, and load planning. Other top areas of interest include bar-code scanning and storage (69%) and inventory-optimization software (58%).

The study also recommends that supply chain organizations design applications that are customized to their specific operations and day-to-day needs. Additionally, since supply chain employees may be operating in areas with limited Wi-Fi coverage, it is important that all mobile offerings be available offline so that users can upload any captured information once the device is back in range.

Finally, Trunzo says, sometimes companies have a hard time identifying where to start when it comes to their mobile strategy. She recommends building upon the technology they already have in-house. "There are ways to get started where you leverage the existing [legacy] systems that you have and the investments that you have made," she said. "You don't have to flush everything and start over."

For additional reading regarding supply chain management, please refer to the following links:
Companies with the Greenest Supply Chains
Sustainability in the Supply Chain
The Need to Optimize an Organization’s Supply Chain


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