Logistics professionals are certainly moving toward mobile applications to improve overall supply chain operations, but just how fast is it happening? Our technology correspondent gives us a reality check.
With tablet computers and handheld devices maintaining their tight grip on the business world, it just makes sense that the logistics sector would continue its forward momentum toward a time when wires are a thing of the past.
Long talked about in supply chain circles, goals like “real time” and “visibility” are already coming to fruition for tech-savvy shippers that integrate wireless, RFID, and other mobile technologies into their operations.
Over the next few pages we’ll take a look at just how much traction mobile technologies have gained in today’s supply chain, discuss the benefits of RFID and wireless integrations, and highlight what barriers to adoption still remain. We’ll also illustrate just how close we are to real-time supply chain management and logistics visibility—and how far we have to go before we get there.
“One supply chain executive told me that by the time he goes through the six-month purchase approval process at his firm for wireless technology, three generations of smart phones have come and gone,” says Ellis.
IDC reports that mobile applications and devices are penetrating the sales and marketing organization at a “staggering pace,” and expects total worldwide smartphone shipments to reach 925.7 million units by 2015 (compared to 450 million in 2011). Computer tablets like the iPad, Motorola XOOM, and Samsung Galaxy Tab are also growing in popularity, and are on pace to reach shipments of roughly 50 million units in 2011 (up 18 million units in 2010).
Expect to see at least a portion of those mobile devices in the warehouse, where more shippers are gravitating toward wireless environments. In those logistics environments, Zimmerman says requirements for specific key sizes—and the ability to withstand multiple, 6-foot drops to a concrete floor—have given way to durable devices that share the operating systems, processors, communications, batteries, and even peripheralization with their more ruggedized brethren.
Not all shippers are reaping the rewards of these wireless advancements, although many are looking to upgrade and begin seeing those benefits. “A lot of [shippers] in the warehouse and distribution sector still have a lot of the old technology installed,” Zimmerman says, “and are looking to integrate the value and cost advantages of an 802.11n solution.”
That movement is also being driven by the fact that wireless handset providers like Motorola are rolling out 802.11n-capable devices. “That’s sending a signal to the industry that now is the time to upgrade wireless infrastructures to support those handhelds,” says Zimmerman, “and tap into the value that they provide.”
Part of the growth in wireless will come from the handheld market, where durable devices are gaining popularity among shippers that increasingly want to handle their warehouse and transportation operations without the hassle of wires. “The cost profiles and functionality of handheld devices is making their adoption more advantageous for companies,” says Zimmerman, who points out that improved Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi hot spots, and better cellular capabilities are all playing a role in the evolution.