The mobile revolution hits the supply chain

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Do you have a smart phone?  A tablet or iPad?  No? Then you are rapidly becoming amongst the minority. The mobile revolution is here.  Walk down the aisle of a plane or through an airport and you’ll see as many tablets as laptops. Mobile devices started by offering people the ability to read e-mail, chat, and browse the web. Now there are dedicated apps that allow people to do anything from read a book, to find a restaurant, shop on Amazon or negotiate a mortgage. What we haven’t seen is apps that are directed at manufacturing and the supply chain…yet. I saw an article in Industry Week several days ago talking about mobile technology being used in manufacturing.  Two apps are discussed in the article; one is an app that allows sales representatives to view pictures and specifications of complex products.  The other is a plant floor app that can be used for material flow analysis.   These are interesting and in some cases necessary, but there is another area where mobile apps can be really exciting. Let’s play a little scenario out in our minds; imagine the typical in-person sales meeting.  You are visiting with a prospective client trying to get orders placed for one of your high-profit products. Your customer is interested but they have an immediate need which requires delivery inside of lead time.  To add to the stress, they will place the order if you can confirm it today; otherwise they will place the order with a competitor.  So how do you respond in this situation?  The optimist (or perhaps the cynic) might say that you take the order and pray that you can deliver.  The pessimist might say that you don’t take the order and hope that you can do business next time (because you haven’t antagonized the customer by not delivering on a promise).  Either way, you are put in a difficult situation because you don’t have the information you need at hand. Now let’s imagine the same scenario but this time you are carrying a tablet connected to your supply chain software. Using the tablet, you create a scenario (a safe environment where you can do "what-if" analysis without impacting actual production) and simply add your customer’s order. The analytics in the supply chain software evaluate the new order in the context of the existing customer orders, and the current supply, and capacity information and then determines an available date. It turns out that the available date (when the order can be shipped) is acceptable to the customer and you can accept the order with confidence. You are happy, the customer is happy, and your supply chain is happy because you haven’t promised something that may not be delivered.  This is where the true power of mobile computing shines for manufacturing and the supply chain. Manufacturing apps are here.  Those that embrace these new capabilities will have a distinct advantage over those are stuck in the old paradigms. But the journey is only beginning; how do you see mobile applications changing your job? Comment back and let us know!

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Jim Ashmore
- January 29, 2012 at 5:00pm
Actually, we already have that software. It is called a phone and a conversation with the affected production planner. He or she can simulate the order and check for constraints and options.

If the sales force had that software, that would be the scariest day of my life. Sales managers are not planners and rarely understand planning and the issues of accepting an order inside the planning time fence. Even sophisticated software struggles with the details required to fill rush orders. There are so many variables and many are not linear in nature. That is, accepting the rush order may cascade into a chain of events that result in less throughput and missed orders to multiple other customers. And, that is why we need experienced planners supported by adequate simulation software and clear visibility throughout the supply chain.
John Westerve;d
- January 30, 2012 at 10:17am
Thanks for your comment, Jim.

In some situations, I agree that the conversation with the affected planner is required. Specifically, if the available date returned by the back-end supply chain tool doesn't satisfy the customer's needs you could contact the planners to see if a better date could be achieved.
However, if the date returned by the supply chain system (which should take into account supply and capacity availability throughout the supply chain and any ordering rules defined within the host ERP system) is satisfactory to the customer, why not accept the order?

The problem with just relying on the same old methodologies to confirm orders is that the companies who have done that are quickly replaced by those companies who respond faster and more accurately (all other things being equal).

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