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Supply Chain Technology: Wireless evolution gets closer

Our technology correspondent takes a closer look at what wireless technology is being adopted, how it’s being used, and what benefits logistics professionals are deriving from their mobile investments either inside the four walls or on the road.
By Bridget McCrea, Contributing Editor
August 01, 2012

Barriers to entry
The average smartphone isn’t rugged enough to withstand the abuse that a warehouse worker or truck driver would put it through on a daily basis. “Drop an iPhone and it’s toast,” says Klappich, who sees the development of more
ruggedized devices as a necessity for vendors that want to put their products into the hands of more logistics managers and employees.

Knickle concurs, and says consumer-grade devices simply don’t cut it in the warehouse or truck cab. There are some psychological ways to combat that challenge. For example, she says putting employees in charge of their own devices can help cut down on the damage and the repair costs. “If the worker feels a connection to the device and is responsible for it,” says Knickle, “he or she will be more careful with it.”

Training also comes into play when deciding to move to a wireless environment on the road or inside the four walls. Being able to quickly get workers up to speed on the devices—particularly when moving from a manual or paper-based environment—can also impact the success of a supply chain-wide wireless implementation. “Sometimes it’s a question of how much tweaking the device needs to be fast and easy enough for someone to use with minimal training,” Knickle says. 

Security is another issue that shippers are grappling with as they introduce wireless into their warehouses and fleet operations. Being able to “lock down” mobile computers and avoid data theft if the device is stolen or lost; use integrated security firewalls and authentication and encryption; and confidently rely on enterprise wireless networks, such as the popular 802.11i option, are all of concern for shippers moving into the wireless world.

“Mobility makes it easier for managers to stay connected to what is happening in their supply chain when they are on the move,” says Banker, who points out that integration and reporting are two areas where shippers would like to get more out of their wireless systems. “There’s always a list of reports that shippers would like to have, and a desire to more tightly integrate into TMS, dispatch, and maintenance solutions.”

On the horizon
The good news is that when wireless is done right across all elements of the supply chain, the positive results can be significant.

“It comes down to being more effective and efficient in overall operations,” says Knickle, who adds that wireless-enabled shippers gain better visibility over both inbound and outbound freight. Armed with this data, companies can more efficiently schedule assets and labor across the supply chain; deploy dock doors; and manage issues such as product recalls.

Knickle expects the pace of wireless adoption to remain slow and steady, despite the fact that manufacturers see mobility as the second most important supply chain “pillar” (with data, cloud, and social business being the other three pillars), according to IDC’s research.

“Mobility is obviously important to the supply chain in general because it complements existing IT investments and business processes,” says Knickle, who adds that companies are trying to understand mobile’s role in the overall supply chain and how to use it in conjunction with other existing and new technologies. “Until those questions are answered, mobile adoption will remain low.” 

About the Author

Bridget McCrea
Contributing Editor

Bridget McCrea is a Contributing Editor for Logistics Management based in Clearwater, Fla. She has covered the transportation and supply chain space since 1996, and has covered all aspects of the industry for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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