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Guest Blog: Smartphones in supply chain management

Thomas Halliday | Nov. 6, 2012
Smartphones may be what companies need in order to remain productive and meet targets without adding manpower.

Thomas Halliday, AEB
Photo: Thomas Halliday, General Manager, AEB (Asia Pacific).

The introduction of the smartphone has changed the way we communicate, the way we live, and even the way we work. When cellphones were first introduced in the early 1980s, their bulky appearance, reminiscent of huge paperweights, attracted only the most technologically-savvy users in developed countries. Today, it is considered a necessity, and in emerging economies it is not uncommon to forego the ownership of a traditional phone and instead opt to use a smartphone.

Smartphone usage has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to affordable data plans and more reliable network coverage. The relative affordability of smartphones has also contributed to the increase in usage.

Thanks to their multiple capabilities, smartphones have become ubiquitous in various professions. For years, the Blackberry was the weapon of choice amongst politicians in Washington DC, while in other cities and professions, managers have purchased iPhones and Androids that will help them stay connected with the office. Managers and workers in supply chain management (SCM) are no exception.

A smartphone for every SCM professional
At present, the majority of SCM professionals are using smartphones. In a study by the ARC Advisory Group, 69 percent of supply chain managers say that the smartphone is their preferred device. Twenty-two percent of them use it to scan barcodes, while 22 percent use them to take photographs of receipts. The use of smartphones has in fact diminished costly errors that may occur with manual data entry. In some companies, it has reduced the reliance on labourers because manual processes have been eliminated. This is particularly needed in cities such as Singapore, which has experienced a shortage of cheap foreign labour due to changes in government policy. Smartphones may be what local companies need in order to remain productive and meet targets without adding manpower.

With the advent of various IT visibility platforms, the impact of smartphones on supply chain management has become even greater. Managers can now receive real time updates on whatever they choose to monitor. These visibility platforms are accessible on PCs, but since the shift to mobile phones, IT solutions providers have made these platforms available on smartphones as well. The shift from using IT platforms on desktop PCs to accessing them on smartphones has empowered managers, making it possible for them to monitor different stages in the supply chain outside the four walls of their office.

Supply chain managers can effectively monitor whatever they may choose: whether it's quality assurance, manufacturing, order management, and other aspects of the supply chain. These visibility platforms have given managers greater flexibility in making decisions, standardise customs processes for greater efficiency, increase warehouse labour productivity, flexibility in choosing transport service providers, and other issues that were previously impossible through manual methods. These platforms enable one single manager to do what used to be the responsibility of a number of employees.


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