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Mobile Tech for Supply Chains: Mobile Waves Outside the Warehouse

Emma Johnson

The growing intricacies within logistics management is pushing businesses to increasingly consider mobile approaches using consumer technology. Whether it is examining assets or better organization of last-mile deliveries, supply chain firms are exploiting portable tools in order to help achieve new competencies outside the walls of their distribution centers.

Step outside the warehouse floor into the customer delivery area where trailers in the yard are loaded or unloaded and the ‘last mile’ to the final destination needs to be bridged in the most economical and effective method possible. It is also an environment where shortage of drivers and capacity constraints can reflect rapidly on the firm’s performance and revenues. A clear majority of mobile tech implementation is thus most visible outside the warehouse during transport & delivery, and particularly within companies that are looking to make their operations and workflows more flexible to begin with.

Firms are now investing in enterprise mobility devices for their delivery operations in the postal service market, less than truckload (LTL) & long-tow logistics solutions, and the white-glove delivery segments.

Taking on the mobile crusade

We’re seeing a trend where supply chain supervisors are breaking the shackles and operating with more mobility to try and augment output, boost customer service, and streamline their transport operations. Other drivers for the logistics mobile revolution comprise of hands-free prerequisites for delivery teams to connect with dispatch systems, GPS, and of course the unremitting need for greater efficiencies.

VDC Research (a software firm that delivers in-depth market insights to tech vendors) says that the top ranked portable logistics applications today consist of real-time GPS routing (employed by 63% firms), shipment scheduling and management (55%), postal delivery tracking (55%), proof of delivery (51%), telematics (42%), and client engagement (39%). In recent times, constant improvements in mobile applications, device functionality – cameras, payment and signature capture capabilities and on-board navigation systems – and coverage are further fueling adoption. “New-age” requirements like surging need for returns management & reverse logistics (owing to e-commerce) and same-day delivery further add to the load/capacity challenges.

VDC suggest that the most crucial investment drivers in the logistics sphere today are enhanced workforce productivity (according to 55% firms), decreased functional costs (42%), increased customer loyalty and service (33%), quicker decision making (32%) and improved communication & teamwork among field agents (30%), among others.

As a return on their mobile investments, shipping companies are hoping to accelerate response to eleventh-hour schedule modifications, better fulfillment and safety ratings, and improved staff satisfaction and retention.

Adopt a wait and see approach?

Businesses are increasingly shifting to contemporary consumer technologies (that’s iOS and Android, and possibly Windows 10) from traditional Windows Mobile and certainly from proprietary technologies and specialized devices. And increasingly this shift is seeing massive reductions in IT investments, easier change management and largely future-proof.

There is also an increasing requirement for mobile solutions where global positioning, radio-frequency, and various sensors come together. These are particularly effective in situations where spoilage is a considerable hazard for shipping firms – both in terms of dollar losses and from a regulatory perspective – or where the high value of the consignments can justify the investment. Recent trends indicate increasing adoption rates among the bigger corporations, in addition to noteworthy demand in the mid-market. VDC Research projections indicate an eight percent yearly increase in mobile solutions investments for ‘beyond the fence’ applications.


There are to two promising developments in outdoor mobile supply chain automation – geo-fencing and agent-based computer modeling technology. Geo-fencing makes use of software and satellite communications to virtually delineate physical margins/areas, and connect with dispatch drivers who use smartphones or tablets. Once these boundaries are set up, operators at distribution centers can be alerted when a vehicle passes in and out of the area, and the amount of time it stays inside the fence. The potential with this technology appears limitless – for instance, it can be effective in analysis of vehicle idle-times, and the related costs and various other metrics to drive effective decisions for better utilization rates.

The second game-changer, agent-based modeling, employs algorithms and estimation models to mimic and replicate exchanges between independent agents and, in the process, helps firms gauge the their entire operation. In other words, this simply means accumulating and scrutinizing speculative as well as practical data, and utilizing this data to compile a behavioral reaction to aid in making higher quality, forward-thinking decisions. A perfect specimen of the concept in a real-world scenario is the Singapore taxicab system – the managers guide vehicles, put them on the right track, and administer the entire fleet by using agent-based simulation technology. This is technology that comprises of global-level understanding combined with modeling facets – certainly one that promises a lot more in the future.

And it is all made possible by mobility!

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