Guest Commentary: Transportation and Mobility – On the Truck, in the Warehouse, and with the Workforce

Supply chain operators put food on their tables every night by considering enhancements in efficiency. So when the word “transportation” comes up in a meeting, most people think first about planes, boats, trains, trucks, deliveries and packages. However, the fact is that efficient transportation is at the heart of every supply chain process – not only on a delivery route, but also in the warehouse and in the store. And that’s the reason mobile technology has proliferated in warehouses, on trucks, and in the hands of employees. It’s a trend that will continue to accelerate through 2011.

Over the past five years, mobile solutions have been implemented in transportation networks more than any other. It makes sense — as cellular technology has become more reliable, and gas prices have gone up, most fleets have turned to those systems to manage assets faster and cheaper. When delivering petroleum, for example, managers are able to track when a truck’s pump turns on, and where that truck is located at all times, helping to reduce theft. In the coming months, more and more fleet operators will use mobile technology to make decisions about taxation, gleaned from GPS coordinates that handheld units can provide. Invoicing that used to take 30 days is now completed in hours, now that drivers can print billing documents at their delivery sites. So as we plow toward 2012, expect to see more tablet computers in trucks.

It’s obvious, though, that most of the world’s tablets aren’t in the hands of truckers, but with consumers, who have learned how to become their own supply chain managers. Products aren’t purchased exclusively in a store anymore, but also on phones, on televisions, and online. All-channel commerce is here to stay, and that means fulfillment pros will have to keep up. Luckily, the same mobile technology used by consumers to make our lives difficult works to our advantage. For instance, if a customer changes what time they’d like a couch delivered to their house, re-routing can be communicated by mobile device to and from a truck, without the need for a series of phone calls to flip the schedule. If a customer’s package is damaged in the warehouse, new instructions can be relayed immediately to employees eliminating what was, in the past, often a day-long procedure of logging the damage, filing paperwork, and filling a new order. So while fulfillment demands have only grown over the past year as a result of mobile, the same technology enables us to meet them. So mobile will expand not only into trucks, but DCs too.

In the end, the remainder of 2011 will focus not on speeding up the supply chain, but on removing the roadblocks that slow it down. It’s clear that mobile technologies enable those initiatives, accelerating communication, delivery times, and movement within the warehouse. The world we live in is already constantly in motion – don’t expect it to slow down any time soon.

Gary Morgan is VP, Advantage Team, at RedPrairie. Gary is responsible for assessing product and market trends and nimbleness of third party technology systems for RedPrairie’s productivity solutions. He has over 18 years of experience engineering, defining and implementing hundreds of customer specific solutions for RedPrairie’s supply chain execution systems. These encompass hosted solutions, RF industrial terminals, Voice enablement and RFID real-time execution systems for worldwide customers.

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