Disney World in Florida is one of my favorite places to vacation. I made a family trip recently, going to the parks after a seven-year gap—and was awestruck by the mobile app experience. All my previous trips were before the smartphone era and I had honed my strategy to optimize on Fastpass, park routing, and showtimes. This time around, the Disney Mobile App leveled the playing field—as real-time wait times, Fastpass slots, GPS mapping to attractions, and restaurant reservations could be made in seconds on my phone.
Disney is not an isolated example. Killer mobile apps have transformed our lives and multiple industries (think Uber for transportation, Whatsapp for communication, and many others).
The question is, what is the sweet spot for supply chain related mobile apps? We need to look at three characteristics in supply chains to answer this question.
Overall, the Disney mobile app was the perfect complement to the theme park experience. Walking tourists make a great mobile user base. Multiple spread-out attractions are perfect for GPS. And updating information in real-time (like wait times) lends itself to mobile presentation.
Mobility of the Supply Chain User Base
This is an obvious one, but needs to be analyzed further. This analysis in the Disney analogy is easy—the entire park is full of only mobile users (hard to lug a laptop along with strollers!). In large organizations today, most supply chain executives and managers are mobile; travelling to far flung manufacturing sites, supplier hubs, distribution centers, and so on. This segment of the workforce has to stay on top of supply chain developments, and mobile apps are a key enabler. The next segment of workers can be divided into mobile and non-mobile users. The mobile users of supply chain data (note: this is different from supply chain workers) could be salespeople doing meetings with customers who want to know where the goods are, or logistics people walking around a warehouse. In the remaining segment of non-mobile users, there are people who either need supply chain information 9-to-5 or 24x7. For the 9-to-5 processes (e.g. accounts payables), a mobile app is not a necessity. However for the 24x7 processes, a mobile app is a necessity.
Visibility into Dynamic Information
The speed at which the underlying information is changing is the primary driver on how much value mobile provides. Many supply chain functions fit this criterion such as production data, quality data, transportation status, and inventory data. Using the Disney app analogy: if the app were showing park hours (static data)—it’s not of much value. However, real-time waiting times for rides and attractions is immensely valuable.
Some supply chain situations require rapid organizational response—e.g. a disruption at a key supplier necessitates a response in hours vs days. Another example is a delay in critical shipment for a major customer to identify alternative options. Expectations on supply chain performance have increased the need to respond faster, driven by competitive pressures (need to react faster than competition) and customer expectations (e.g. pay penalties for late deliveries).
Think through the Conversion of a Desktop App to a Mobile View
Wrapping up, once some supply chain processes are identified as ripe for mobile enablement, the organization shouldn’t rush to convert a desktop view into a mobile app, as the use case for the same process is very different in a desktop scenario versus a mobile scenario. The next step should be to analyze the business process: what information is really needed by the mobile user? How would this information be used? Who else would use or collaborate with this information? Thus, a good mobile app would balance the full-blown desktop capability with the ease-of-use for a mobile use case.
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