Please could you start by introducing yourself, and tell me a little bit about your company and its involvement in the supply chain industry?
I am the Principal Consultant for Logistics & Supply Chain at Proxima, a specialist procurement and supply chain consultancy that works with some of the largest businesses in the UK and US.
What is mobile technology, and what are the benefits of using such technology in the supply chain industry?
Mobile technology is essentially the use of any mobile device such as a mobile phone, tablet or tracking device within the supply chain. While this may seem an obvious development given the fact that phones and tablets are now a permanent fixture in our lives, the impact of these technologies across the supply chain space has been enormous.
If we look specifically at the freight industry, for example, mobile technology is allowing businesses to track and monitor every element of the delivery of a product. Mobile Tracking devices within delivery vehicles allow companies to examine the performance of drivers, monitor the routes they are taking, their fuel consumption, and whether they are veering off course unnecessarily. The benefits of this may seem small on an individual level, but when scaled up across an organisation there are huge potential savings and efficiencies that companies can take advantage of.
The benefits of mobile technology have also recently been visible in the vaccine rollout, where devices have monitored the conditions of doses as they are transferred. This is a use that has been used in food and retail supply chains and allows retailers to ensure that conditions are suitable for transferring certain goods.
Technology is allowing the information flow through the supply chain to be as live and up to date as possible, and every element of this can now be tracked. Agility in supply chains has been shown to be essential over the past year – and mobile technologies are key to delivering this.
Why should supply chains adopt mobile technology?
Put simply, mobile technology means more data. And more data means more opportunities to drive efficiency at every stage of the supply chain.
Even the smallest weaknesses and opportunities can now be identified and supply chain managers can increase the visibility of every different level of the chain.
At a logistical level, there are also massive operational efficiencies that can be delivered through mobile technology. In warehousing, for example, live data through mobile technology is allowing warehouse managers to observe every detail of pick rates, the pick points, and what team leaders need to drive efficiencies at every touchpoint.
In some cases, mobile technology is being used to drive automation and is reducing the need for human labour altogether.
What innovations are happening in the mobile technology space?
Robots in picking and warehousing are one of the key developments in mobile technology, and these are allowing businesses to completely automate entire warehouses.
Heinz for example has introduced an automated warehouse in the past year which relies entirely on mobile technologies. Demand is growing rapidly as more businesses see the benefits of this competitive automation.
This is a long-term investment however that requires a significant period of implementation, and businesses will need to go through a long transitionary period before these become operational.
How can advanced technologies such as Cloud, IoT and 5G help the supply chain drive greater value from mobile technology?
Speed and quality of data are the essential pillars on which mobile technologies operate, so Cloud IoT and 5G are all playing a crucial role in realising the full potential of mobile technologies.
In freight, 5G has the potential to enhance the speed and quality of live data from delivery drivers which is allowing supply chain managers to drive efficiencies.
IoT technology in warehousing is allowing fully automated warehouses to function smoothly and continuously. This will play an increasingly central role as more companies make the shift to automated supply chains.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, how have mobile technologies helped supply chains to remain operational?
Mobile technology underpins supply chain automation, and this has been crucial to keeping supply chains functional over the past year through unprecedented labour shortages and strains.
When staff were incapacitated for example or unable to work due to restrictions, automation has shown itself to be a valuable tool in keeping the entire operation working.
How do you see mobile technology being used post-COVID-19?
The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in supply chains and show them to be a chronically underinvested area of the business. As a result supply chains have risen rapidly up the c-suite’s agenda.
We certainly expect the demand for mobile technologies in the supply chain to keep growing as the c-suite takes note.
Labour shortages also show no sign of abating after the combined impact of Brexit and the pandemic led to an exodus of potential warehouse workers. Automation can reduce the need for warehouse staff by up to 80% so will be seen by business leaders as a potential solution to these shortages.
How can supply chains ensure that their mobile technology remains secure?
New mobile technologies introduce myriad new risks and points of weakness to a business, and security is therefore proving an increasingly important issue for all supply chain managers.
We have known instances of criminal hackers attempting to access a businesses’ supply chain data in order to track the movement of goods to intercept, for example.
Many businesses in freight will now enforce buddy rules on their drives to ensure that vehicles are always moving and that even in the event of data leaks, vehicles are not vulnerable to attack.
The level of security required is extremely high, and even if it’s just in the warehouse, data security has to be front of mind for all supply chain managers.
What are the challenges, and how can they be mitigated?
Security is a primary challenge, and businesses will need to be hyper-vigilant to avoid the dangers that come with increased technology in the supply chain.
This will require coordinated working with IT teams and senior management to ensure that all potential weaknesses are covered and protected.
The investment and commitment of mobile technologies are also not to be underestimated. The technologies needed to shift to full automation in a warehouse, for example, are significant. There may be a significant delay before these technologies are fully operational, and the return on investment may not be seen for some time