By Mike Morris and Ben Kerschberg
Countless companies have workers in the field — for example, on oil rigs, driving semi-trucks, emergency medical technicians in ambulances, and mechanics on the tarmac of every major airport. To date, the main information-gathering tools used by these workers were the same old clunkers: clipboards, paper forms, and log histories. Those tools are relics of a past that no longer fit today’s field business processes. They have been replaced by mobile devices, and especially by tablets (e.g., iPads) and mobile apps that allow information to be relayed to field workers in real time. This is widely known as enterprise field mobility.
Where can we see this at play? Global supply chain management’s (“SCM”) many challenges, including the need for immediate, real-time data worldwide, is a strong use case.
Today’s supply chain manager has actionable business intelligence derived from big data. To find the nuggets of wisdom held therein, companies need tools such as predictive analytics to mine them and answer the question: “What is going to happen given everything we know?” Business analysts apply algorithms recursively to the company’s data sets in order to yield granular, real-time predictions that are then fed to the field.
With the power of predictive analytics in mind, consider the following global SCM scenario to see how important field mobility is.
Company (X), based in Sacramento, manufacturers airplane parts. For the sake of this example, let’s assume that (X) saves money by transporting its parts only by train, trucks, or cargo ships. In order to shorten its delivery cycle and inventory carry, it sends Europe-bound shipments via train and its own trucks across the United States, and then by cargo ship to Hamburg, Germany, one of the world’s largest ports. From there a third-party German trucking company delivers parts to (X)’s clients. Easy, right?
Every shipment presents challenges. Railways can break down or be delayed during inclement weather. The American port from which (X) sends its cargo may have a strike on its docks that has nothing to do with (X), but impacts it tremendously. This results in idle trucks, excessive inventory, and increased storage costs. Clients in Europe may second guess their choice of supplier—(X)—before the cargo even touches dry land.
Yet assume the parts clear the dock on the East Coast of the United States and proceed to the high seas. One hundred miles from Hamburg, the ship contends with gale force winds and waves. The Captain of the freighter needs to know precisely how strong the storm (i) is now and (ii) will be 8 hours from now. Without analytics, he does not have that visibility. Should he proceed through the storm or unload instead at Amsterdam with all the downstream effects that may entail for his customer, (X)?
You can see the dependent variables at play. And you may ask: Is such a series of events realistic? The answer is yes, and pound per pound, it is not overly serious compared to other entanglements.
Company (X) knows that it will have to rely on analytics. But then what? In our scenario, the foibles go around the world quickly and raise serious questions along the way. How does one convey that information throughout the supply chain?
Analytics-powered mobile applications can transmit data to the field and in real time on tablets and smartphones. The accumulation and distribution of this data is not a one-way street. The fidelity of the data and analytics also depends on input from the field. The presence of political unrest in Hamburg is an example. The third-party trucking fleet stuck on the Autobahn is another. These are subjective points of data that need to make their way to (X). All of this information can be uploaded through the same mobile app so that Company’s (X)’s analytics can immediately recalibrate its predictions and outbound communication.
This two-way street makes field-focused apps extremely powerful.
Mobile application development has a bright future. At the end of Q1 2015, the hype around new models for mobile application development is well deserved, with many aimed at using field mobility to make enterprises more competitive than ever.
This article was written by Ben Kerschberg from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.