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Industry Solutions Manufacturing Mobility Transportation and Logistics

How to Improve Food Safety Supply Chain Management

The food supply chain is a particularly complex one to manage. You need to take environmental and time constraints into account to make sure perishable items get from the point of production through processing, distribution, and retail/wholesale operations before they spoil. Food safety regulations that have emerged over the past few years have added more complexity.

Relevant regulations in this space include the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which require improved data on food origins as well as lot and traceability information to help improve the recall process across the food safety supply chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently released new rules that even require grocery stores that grind raw beef products to keep records about where the meat came from, lot numbers and production dates, and the date and time each ground beef product was produced.

There have also been advances in detecting and tracking food contamination incidents. For example, there is PulseNet, which state public health laboratories use to analyze bacteria strains from sick individuals and then report to the CDC. The FDA Reportable Food Registry requires companies to report serious product contamination as well.

These new regulations also offer an opportunity for stakeholders across the industry to improve food safety supply chain management by leveraging technology to improve compliance, make the recall process faster and more accurate, and reduce costs. Companies can also improve their own safety performance in the following ways:

Carefully vet all suppliers, distributors, and carriers. Failure to comply with best practices when it comes to food safety can put your brand at risk, so make sure you know exactly where your products have been, including all storage facilities, trucks, and other stops along the way. Investigate the safety practices at those facilities. Find out what kind of testing they do, and how often.

Conduct regular audits. Establish a formal auditing process for your own facilities and those of your suppliers or carriers. This also will help you document your own food safety supply chain improvement efforts.

Create comprehensive purchasing agreements. Involve food safety professionals in outlining supplier agreements so you can minimize risk. Have requirements in writing relative to meeting federal and state rules and regulations, as well information on their own supplier agreements and notifications of any supply changes.

Maintain accurate labeling. The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires importers to provide a significant amount of information to the FDA prior to importation of food, including lot, code number or other identifiers, information about he submitter and transmitter, and other identifying data.

Likewise, the FSMA requires a comprehensive product tracing system to track the movement of food from the farm to the point of sale or service. This is so producers can contain outbreaks of foodborne illnesses more quickly.

Implement accurate tracking technology.  As in other industries, the food safety supply chain can benefit from the use of automatic identification technology. There are efforts worldwide to extend food supply chain tracking right back to the individual animal. Governments and suppliers around the world have invested in livestock traceability systems, often using RFID transponders, and these efforts can even extend to the point of delivery or purchase.

omniQ, for example, has developed an RFID-based tray tracking solution that allows bakeries to track deliveries and provide information about the baked goods on the tray to reduce stales and automate replenishment processes.  This also provides needed lot tracking control to identify exactly what batch of products went to what locations.

In addition to barcode and RFID labeling, there are number of high-tech approaches to automating food safety processes. For example, iCertainty and Zebra Technologies created a solution that combines iCertainty’s software, Zebra’s mobile computers, and wireless temperature probes to provide real-time information on food safety audits.  Temperature and other environmental measurements can even be gathered from the point of origin to delivery to ensure that conditions were not exceeded at any point in the journey.

Develop an emergency response plan for recalls and emergencies. With accurate food safety supply chain data in hand, you can perform more targeted recalls and get the contaminated food off the shelf much faster. Establish specific responsibilities for your own team, develop protocols for each supplier and retailer, and have a response team ready to inform consumers and work with the media.

By working with suppliers, creating a clear response plan, and leveraging automated tracking technology, food manufacturing and distribution companies can maintain compliance while also improving traceability and making the recall process faster and less expensive.

Categories
Mobility Retail Transportation and Logistics

The Disruptive Revolution: The Future of Enterprise Mobility

We often hear the ‘future is now’, and more and more the world seems to be turning into a science fiction movie. Should we be worried or excited about the Disruptive Revolution?  Maybe a bit of both.

We keep hearing about cars driving themselves, fridges that automatically order food from online groceries, and drones and robots taking over self-service operations such as hotels or restaurants. Is technology surpassing humans, and will humans be gradually replaced?  At the forefront of this revolution are disruptive companies such as Amazon, Uber or Google.

This revolution is disruptive, and its growth is exponential.  Here are a few numbers to illustrate this:  By the year 2020, there will be over 220 million connected cars on the road, and, in the utilities industry, nearly 1 billion installed smart meters.  In the USA retail market alone, an estimated $44.4 billion will be generated from beacon-triggered messages.  In the end, the ‘digital rat race’ is fueled by efficiency, productivity and cost savings, and important investments will keep on accelerating.

What are the key drivers to all this? According to Business Insider, there are four key drivers, including Internet connectivity, adoption of mobility technologies, low cost sensors and, of course, investments that fuel inherent ROI.  By 2020, there will be $6 trillion invested in IoT solutions by businesses, governments and consumers, and there will be 24 billion IoT devices installed.  Most of these investments will go towards application development, device hardware and systems integration.

Being at the core of this revolution, omniQ plays a huge role in this transformation as we make sure companies and supply chains are efficient, highly performing and connected.  We understand where this is all going, but like many we have no idea what 2050 will look like. One thing we know is that physical assets are becoming digital, passive objects are becoming visible, and connectivity unleashes data exchanges and it opens up the notion of ‘strategic data’ through Mobile Cloud Analytics.  Data is now driving customer experience and connecting people to environments and ecosystems.

The world we live in is becoming even more complex, and one thing is for sure: We need to remind ourselves of the social, human and environment impacts technology solutions have in our lives.  We also need to keep in mind the basics. Humans need be to remain humanity’s greatest asset, and, in the end, technology needs to be at the service of people – not the other way around!

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Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

Technology in the Warehouse: Consumer vs. Ruggedized Devices

Because mobile devices are so ubiquitous in our culture, it’s often difficult to remember that mobile computers were once limited to warehouse and other industrial applications. Some of the earliest truly mobile devices were deployed for inventory and warehouse management decades ago.

These ruggedized devices are the workhorses of the mobile computing world, but many users have begun to evaluate less expensive, consumer-grade devices for their warehouse applications. In most cases, this is the wrong strategy. While cheaper phones or tablets may provide some initial cost savings, their long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) is often much higher than that of traditional ruggedized devices.

Architecture: Many companies use legacy warehouse software that may have been in place for as long as a decade, and most warehouse management solutions are designed for Windows-based devices. There is increasing support for Android devices (which are available in rugged form factors) but quite limited use of Apple’s iOS in these environments. Most ruggedized devices are also capable of terminal emulation to access these legacy applications, meaning they can duplicate the performance of older devices used with legacy warehouse applications.

Durability: Ruggedized devices are built to withstand shock, vibration, drops to concrete floors, and exposure to dirt, dust, moisture, and chemicals. They are less likely to fail in a warehouse environment than a consumer device, and are much more likely to survive the rough use they will experience. There are some rugged computers that can even withstand being run over by a truck. This durability means fewer failures and less downtime and lost productivity on the warehouse floor.

Device Management: Large mobile computing deployments require robust mobile device management (MDM) solutions in order to make it easier to deploy software updates from a central location, to provision new devices, and to troubleshoot and fix devices that may be spread out over a large building or campus, or across multiple facilities. While some consumer devices also support these solutions, many phones and tablets do not, or they include security features that make it difficult to centrally provision certain applications. Ruggedized devices include support for most MDM solutions and traditional IT provisioning and management approaches.  The rugged devices also provide additional targeted information about device health and user activity that do not exist in consumer-grade devices.

Enterprise Application Requirements: Most consumer devices can’t handle the requirements of high-volume, enterprise-grade warehouse applications. Ruggedized devices have faster, more accurate barcode scanners; longer battery life; support for multiple wireless networking options; screens that can be read easily in both daylight and dark conditions; enterprise-level security features; and additional options to support RFID scanning, GPS, and other technologies. For fast paced, time-critical applications, a camera-scanner simply does not perform accurately and fast enough, decreasing worker productivity. Consumer devices simply can’t compete because they were designed for much lighter usage and different applications.

Security: Ruggedized devices also provide enhanced security features to allow lock-down of applications so users only access what they need to access and prevents hacking into the device or the company’s network.

Safety:  Rugged devices can also provide extra levels of safety in hazardous areas, such as volatile chemicals.   Consumer grade devices are often not even permitted anywhere near these areas.

Consistency:  With new versions of consumer phones and operating system updates occurring annually, it is challenging to provide a consistent set of hardware and software across all devices in an environment for an extended period of time.  Mismatched hardware and software with even subtle differences in configuration and operation can cause confusion with users and unpredictable performance and ultimately errors and inefficiency.

Total Cost of Ownership: The initial purchase price is just one component of the TCO. You also have to take into account the shorter lifecycle (two years, compared to roughly five years), high replacement costs, more frequent device failures, and the cost of employee downtime and lost productivity. Consumer devices may also require separate peripherals for barcode scanning, or protective cases to improve their durability. This adds to the overall TCO.

In fact, 2013 research from industry analyst VDC indicates that consumer smartphones can increase TCO by as much as 51% while reducing ROI by 34%.

The low cost of consumer devices is tempting for companies trying to control their budgets. But deploying consumer-grade devices in the warehouse will ultimately result in much higher replacement costs in addition to expensive downtime and lost productivity. Using ruggedized devices in the warehouse will provide a lower TCO and a higher return on investment.

Categories
Mobility

BYOD: A Good Idea or a Security Nightmare?

Technology use in the workplace continues to expand rapidly, as smartphones, tablets, and laptops play an essential part in getting things done. Many businesses have a BYOD or “bring your own device” policy, which allows employees to use their personal mobile devices instead of company-issued ones for work purposes.  But do the benefits of a BYOD policy outweigh the risks? Let’s explore the pros and cons of BYOD:

Pros

  • Worker Satisfaction:Employees often prefer their own devices, which they are already comfortable using. They may not want to keep track of multiple phones or tablets or learn new systems. Allowing your employees to use familiar technology can help with recruiting and retaining happy workers.
  • Increased Productivity:BYOD gives employees flexible access to company data, apps, and shared files. They can work from anywhere, at any time, because they will almost always have their personal devices with them.
  • Cost Savings:Companies save money by not having to buy mobile devices or training employees on how to use them.

Cons

  • Security Risks:Perhaps the biggest concern with BYOD is security. Confidential and proprietary information can be at risk if a personal device is lost or stolen, or even if the worker permits friends or relatives to use it.  Exposure to hacking or malware is possible if an employee uses public Wi-Fi. Companies must also ensure that after employment is terminated, company data and applications are removed from the former employee’s device and that their access to the network is suspended.  Mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) can help address security concerns by enabling lost or stolen devices to be wiped and by keeping security solutions up to date.
  • Increased Burden on IT Staff:Your IT staff must be familiar with a greater number of devices and operating systems in order to troubleshoot and implement security measures.
  • Privacy Issues: With BYOD, companies have less control over which apps are installed or which websites are visited, including those more likely to contain malware. Employees may also feel that MDM or MAM gives their employer access to private information on the phones or tablets.
  • Liability for Damage:Durability is especially important in busy warehouse environments. Will a worker’s chosen device be sturdy enough to withstand work conditions?  And if an employee’s personal phone or tablet is damaged during work use, is the company responsible for repair or replacement?
  • Potential Infrastructure Upgrades:BYOD may mean more devices on the company network, increasing the demand for bandwidth and requiring network upgrades.
  • BYOD Policy Development:A successful BYOD program includes planning, policy development (legal advice may be needed), and training.

Is BYOD right for your business? Ultimately, managers must decide based on their company’s individual needs and resources. BYOD can work, as long as you have a well-researched and carefully thought-out policy and the proper technology in place to keep the company’s network secure and the workers’ personal devices supported. Talk to your VAR or IT integrator to help you create a plan and deploy solutions that are right for you.

Categories
Barcode Mobility

Zebra’s TC8000: The New Standard for Rugged Mobile Computing

You know mobility solutions can boost order picking productivity and efficiency in your warehouse. You may even be to the point where you believe you have reached maximum performance with your current solution. With Zebra’s TC8000 rugged Android mobile computer, though, you can take your warehouse to new levels.

The TC8000 Can Save Each Worker One Hour Per Shift 

Zebra challenged its engineers to design the most efficient, feature-rich mobile computer possible. The result, the TC8000, has been proven through beta testing – and tests in Zebra’s own warehouses – to save an employee 1 hour per shift. The TC8000 has a new form factor — it’s not a gun, rather a 4-inch, high-resolution, wide video graphics array (WVGA) screen on a handle. This design eliminates the need to tilt the device to read the screen after each scan. Just pull the trigger — and do the math:

·       Because workers don’t have to tilt, testing shows each worker has 360 fewer wasted motions per hour compared to when they used a mobile device they had to tilt.
·       Multiply that times 8 hours, and that equals 2,880 wasted motions eliminated per worker per shift.
·       Multiply that by 1.25 seconds per scan, and each worker saves 3,660 seconds — or 1 hour — per shift.

Taking the calculation further, multiply that extra hour times your workforce, and it could be like having an extra employee for every eight workers.

The TC800 Can Improve Productivity by 14 Percent

Zebra also has quantified gains workers experience because the device is lighter and easier to use than traditional mobile computers. The battery is in the handle, offsetting the weight of the screen and resulting in a balanced device that’s comfortable to use, and it’s up to 33 percent lighter compared to traditional handhelds.  Furthermore, testing revealed the TC8000 requires 15 percent less muscle effort and a 55 percent reduction in wrist motion compared to using a traditional handheld.

The TC8000 also replaces the legacy terminal emulation green screen and push button keyboard with a touchscreen. Anticipating the switch to a modern interface, Zebra’s TC8000 includes All-Touch Terminal Emulation software by Wavelink that makes your business apps usable on the device.  No coding or modifications to your host app are necessary. Navigating through green screens by pressing buttons on a keypad is replaced with a tap on a touchscreen.

Your business apps, used with the mobile computer’s touchscreen and intuitive, modern interface, will become as easy to use as consumer apps your workers use on their personal devices. This means less time needed to train new employees and increased productivity.

Through tests with the TC8000, Zebra found workers are 14 percent more productive with the new mobile computer.

It’s Time to See What the TC8000 Can Do for You

The TC8000 is designed specifically to take warehouse productivity to a new level. It works with your employees — not against — and it allows you to use existing apps with its touchscreen user interface. Because of the savings in time and increases in productivity it represents, it’s time to consider what the TC8000 can do for you.

Categories
Mobility Transportation and Logistics Wireless

Logistics Management: 3 Trends to Watch Out For

Transportation and logistics companies face a number of challenges as the industry becomes more competitive. Regulatory requirements have increased, as have pressures to reduce costs and to provide more shipment visibility.

Technology will play a large role in meeting these challenges. Here are three key logistics management technology trends to watch for in the coming months:

Mobility and Wireless Communication: Saddling drivers with piles of paperwork is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. Mobile computers that provide a wireless connection between the driver, the dispatcher, and in some cases, the customer, are becoming more common.

Depending on the industry, drivers may be armed with a rugged tablet computer, a vehicle-mounted device, a handheld computer, or even a smartphone in a rugged case. They can use these devices to receive instructions from the dispatcher, update delivery status, manage their routes, and take advantage of hands-free communication capabilities that improve driver safety.

The continued expansion of faster 3G and 4G wireless networks have made it easier for drivers to stay in constant electronic communication, eliminating the need for phone calls and faxes from the road. These advances help improve efficiency.

Logistics companies are also leveraging their mobile solutions for additional applications. These companies already use mobile computers for dispatch, location data, accessing directions, and reporting delivery status. Increasingly, companies are using these same devices for pre-trip inspections, electronic driver logs, hours of service reporting, fuel tax reporting, electronic time cards, and other applications.

Expanding the number of applications on the mobile device significantly increases the ROI of the solution.

A Drive Toward the Cloud: Hosted, software-as-as-service (SaaS) or cloud-based software solutions are becoming more common in the supply chain. For large logistics organizations, a hosted solution can streamline deployment by making it easier to launch a new application across multiple territories simultaneously, without an army of IT support staff at each location.

For smaller companies, cloud solutions provide a way to cost effectively implement a solution without investing in servers or additional staff to maintain the hardware and software. These solutions can level the playing field between larger and small-to-medium-sized companies.

Because the software is hosted in the cloud, some companies are even able to grant limited, secure access to data (such as location or status) for their customers. That way, the parties shipping and receiving the goods can easily check shipment status without time consuming phone calls.

Telematics: Logistics companies have long used telematics solutions for fleet tracking and safety applications. Now, more advanced telematics systems are being combined with automated dispatch/scheduling and transportation management systems to provide new levels of functionality.

Advanced telematics systems can provide valuable data on driver behaviors (such as speeding or harsh braking) that can be used for improving safety. In-vehicle mobile computers can be looped in to provide real-time alerts and warnings to drivers that are operating outside of established thresholds.

Location data can be leveraged to feed fuel tax reporting or hours of service applications, and accurate driving history can be used to schedule regular maintenance of the vehicles. Telematics solutions can also alert driers and supervisors about potential vehicle maintenance problems.

Telematics data can be used to improve dispatch and scheduling operations, reduce fuel consumption, and optimize fleet utilization. When combined with mobile computing and transportation management solutions, telematics can help logistics companies better manage their fleet and provide value-added services to customers.

Technology will continue to play a critical role in logistics management in the coming year. Investing in leading-edge solutions will help transportation companies stay competitive and profitable.

Categories
Mobility

3 Advantages Mobile Device Management Offers to Enterprises

Mobile device management (MDM) software allows IT administrators to manage tablets, smartphones, and other mobile computers via the cloud or an MDM server. For enterprise-wide mobile solutions, MDM provides valuable functionality that makes it easier to deploy the hardware, manage and maintain the devices, and keep the entire mobile ecosystem secure and up to date. While functionality varies among the various MDM tools available, in general they can help deploy software to all devices simultaneously, remotely wipe data from lost or stolen devices, and help enforce corporate application and security policies.

Why is this important? Mobile computing solutions have become vastly more complex, and many companies now support a number of different hardware platforms (laptops, handhelds, tablets, phones) running multiple operating systems and different applications. In some cases, employees may use a mix of company-owned or personally owned mobile devices, a strategy referred to as “bring your own device” (BYOD). That puts a burden on IT departments who have to track each device and ensure that security patches and software upgrades are up to date, in addition to providing remote troubleshooting and support.

Mobile device management provides a way to streamline troubleshooting and support, as well as improve the overall performance of the mobile ecosystem. Here are three key advantages of using MDM software.

1. Improved Device Management: MDM streamlines the support and management of mobile computers, making it easier to provision and update the devices from a central location. In the past, IT had to deploy staff members to each location to install updates and load software; now, those activities can be done remotely. All devices can be updated simultaneously over the air, regardless of their location.

Staff can also provide remote troubleshooting, and even remotely fix software or firmware-based problems with the devices. This reduces downtime for field employees and helps companies efficiently manage IT costs.

Using MDM also makes it easier to support different types of hardware running different operating systems by automatically tracking which version of each application should be deployed on each specific device. In BYOD environments, mobile device management allows IT to track application use on employee-owned devices; in some cases, these solutions allow IT to “sandbox” corporate data on those devices so it can be locked or deleted without affecting personal data and contacts.

2. Improved Security: Another key benefit of mobile device management is the ability to centrally update all security patches and anti-virus software. If there is a suspected data breach, IT can more easily track the source of the problem and block those devices from accessing the network. If a device is lost or stolen, MDM allows companies to remotely lock-down, brick, or completely wipe data from the missing device. MDM can even track the last time an authorized user accessed sensitive data, and provide an auditable record for compliance purposes. (This is important in heavily regulated industries like healthcare, for example, where users have to follow strict HIPAA privacy and security guidelines.)

The MDM solution can also help enforce security policies by, for instance, preventing users from downloading unauthorized applications. Role-based access policies can also easily be deployed and adjusted centrally.

3. Improved Application Management:Finally, mobile device management makes it easier to manage mobile applications without taxing IT resources. Instead of physically handling the devices to install updates or new software, IT can deploy software on multiple devices simultaneously. This saves time and resources for IT, and reduces disruptions. Most mobile applications are mission critical; eliminating unnecessary downtime that might be caused by large-scale software upgrades provides a huge productivity boost.

Categories
Barcode Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

The Best Strategies for Improving Warehouse Efficiency

Inefficiency can have a corrosive effect on warehouse operations that goes way beyond shipment velocity or throughput. Lack of efficiency can have a domino effect across different warehouse activities, leading to missed shipments, returns, customer chargebacks, and ultimately lost business.

Optimizing warehouse efficiency requires a mix of technology and process changes that, taken in tandem, can both cut costs and create new business opportunities. Here are some key strategies for improving warehouse efficiency:

Process Evaluation: Prior to any major technology deployment, map out every process on the warehouse floor and search for inefficiencies and bottlenecks. If a process doesn’t seem to make sense, find out why it was implemented. In some cases, you may find employees are doing something simply because “It’s always been done that way,” even if “that way” is not longer necessary.

It’s important to root out and change bad processes prior to an automation project, otherwise you’ll simply increase the efficiency of a bad process and get the wrong results at a faster rate.

Automation: Humans are prone to errors, so any opportunity to take the human element out of data entry and data collection is a golden one. Automation technology in the warehouse can take the form of mobile computers, voice-directed picking, pick-to-light systems, conveyers, warehouse management software, bar coded pick lists and putaway locations, or RFID tag tracking.

The key is to reduce or eliminate the number of times an employee has to write things down or search for SKUs. The fewer “touches” on the data, the more accurate it will be and the more quickly your employees can complete their work.

Automation systems can also be set up so that if there is a mispick or mistake, employees are unable to move forward with their picking or packing process until the error is corrected. That way, mistakes are fixed before they reach the customer’s dock door and employees are given a sense of accountability in the process.

Hands-Free Picking: If your warehouse requires a lot of piece picking, then your employees will work faster with both of their hands. Ditch the clipboard or the brick-style mobile computer and see if your picking operations can benefit from a voice-directed picking solution that allows them to work faster.

Measure: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and find out how you are performing against your peers and your own month-to-month numbers. Find your baseline and establish targets. Keep the metrics at a manageable number so staff can focus on specific improvements.

Also, determine your fastest and slowest moving SKUs, rank them, and focus your efforts on improving shipping performance for your most in-demand items.

Stay Organized: Keep your shelves and bins neat and organized. If you deal in different sized products, try using different sized shelving for those products to reduce wasted space. Make better use of vertical space as well; it can save you an investment in more square footage down the road.

Once you identify your fast- and slow-moving SKUs, organize the warehouse so that you can reduce the number of times items are touched, and cut down on the distance your employees have to walk to complete an order and print off labels. Most of the wasted time in a typical warehouse involves staff walking from one spot to another, multiple times per day. If you can trim that time you’ll improve warehouse efficiency and make working conditions better for your staff.

Documentation: Keep a central record of your performance against your targets, and make sure managers are aware of any significant improvements or failures. That documentation should extend to process or staffing changes, new customer demands, technology upgrades, and other changes in the warehouse. With that data available, you can map errors or bottlenecks and potentially identify the source of the problem more quickly.

Warehouse efficiency is critical in an increasingly competitive supply chain. Root out poor processes, invest in technology that can improve productivity, and continuously document and measure your performance in order to keep your operation running as lean as possible.

Categories
Barcode Mobility RFID Hardware Warehouse and Distribution

Inventory Control: 5 Steps to a Successful Warehouse

There’s a subtle difference between inventory management and inventory control. While opinions vary, most categorize inventory management as more of an external-facing process that involves forecasting, ordering, and making sure you have the right amount of inventory in the right locations.

Inventory control, on the other hand, is all about how you handle that inventory once it’s inside your warehouse. As such, it’s an important warehouse operation that has a huge affect on how quickly and accurately you can respond to customer requests, and the level of service your warehouse is able to provide.

Here are five steps to more effective inventory control:

Track Your Inventory: Barcoding (or RFID tracking) will ensure that you get an accurate count of your entire inventory. By implementing scanning procedures for each movement within the warehouse, you can create real-time visibility into location and inventory levels. Combining this with electronic data interchange, advance shipping notices, and other technology will eliminate mispicks and miscounts, shipping errors, out of stocks, and other negative consequences of inadequate tracking.

Categorize Your Inventory: With accurate data about what is moving in and out of your warehouse, and how often, you can begin ranking the items in the warehouse. In most scenarios, around 80 percent of demand comes from 10 to 20 percent of your SKUs. Dedicate more forecasting and inventory management resources to those fast moving items, while optimizing stocks of slower-moving B and C-level inventory.

Organize Your Inventory: Identifying and categorizing inventory also helps you develop shelving and layout plans for the warehouse so that faster moving items are easier to be found, co-located (if they tend to ship together), kitted, or staged closer to the shipping area. Inventory should be organized in such a way that you improve the efficiency of picking and packing, and reduce the overall cost of fulfillment for each customer order.

Automate Cycle Counting: Cycle counting provides ongoing inventory data so that you have access to accurate inventory more than just once a year. The process can even be automated by using barcode scans to conduct the counts as part of the normal course of business. If there are particular items or areas that tend to create inventory problems or generate errors, count those areas more often.

Reduce Inventory: This is where inventory control and inventory management cross paths. Having too much inventory on hand eats up cash and damage, depreciation, or obsolescence, depending on the type of inventory you are holding. It also makes it harder to keep your warehouse orderly and well organized. Ultimately, old inventory gets marked down and sold.

You’ll need the analytics capability to identify fast and slow moving inventory, and to use sales data to determine just how much inventory you actually need, and whether or not that particular SKU is subject to seasonal swings in demand. It’s tempting to keep extra inventory on hand just in case, but moving to a just-in-time model will free up working capital and reduce the cost of obsolescence.

Improving inventory control will improve inventory management, and your ability to manage the entire supply chain. Well-organized warehouse inventory that can be automatically tracked and easily counted is the foundation of optimized warehouse operations.

Categories
Data Interchange Field Sales and Delivery Mobility

3 Things to Look for in a Field Mobility Solution

Selecting the right field mobility solution for your business requires evaluating a number of different elements, including the features and functions available in the software, as well as making sure the solution vendor is a good fit for your company. Putting aside some of the more specific technical features, one of the most important areas to look at is whether or not the solution can help you meet your overall business goals. If you deploy the system, can you actually improve efficiency and customer service? Will you meet your key performance indicator benchmarks?

When it comes to making sure that the solution will help you meet your business goals, there are three key things to look for in a field mobility solution:

1. Usability

Is the new solution easier or harder for technicians to use than the solution or process you are replacing? Field service technicians can’t be bogged down by a sluggish user interface, clunky data entry options, or complex applications that require them to complete multiple steps or open multiple screens to do their work. If technicians work with gloves, then they should be able to enter data on a mobile device while wearing them.

The system cannot be cumbersome or duplicative, or users won’t embrace or possibly even use the solution.

Field mobility solutions are generally created to replace paper forms, and should be as straightforward to use as writing the information down — just much faster and more reliable. Even most rugged device manufacturers have adopted user interfaces that mimic consumer devices like the iPad because they know that end users are already familiar with them. The more intuitive the interface, the less time you have to invest in employee training. Technicians can be up and running on the new solution more quickly.

2. Empowerment

The new system should make mobile employees’ lives easier and empower them to provide better customer service. Your mobile employees want to do the best job possible, so the mobile technology should enable that level of service.

Deployment success will depend on support from the field technicians, so user adoption is critical. You should be able to demonstrate to your employees how the new field mobility solution will make it easier for them to do their jobs, complete work more quickly, provide greater customer satisfaction, and allow them to provide more value to the company.

Evaluate your field and back office processes to make sure you aren’t just automating poor processes. Putting technology on top of a flawed process simply gets you the wrong results faster. Work with a vendor or integrator that can help you take the critical process redesign steps to ensure a successful field mobility solution deployment.

3. Flexibility

The new solution should be flexible and scalable enough to grow and change with your own business requirements and customer volume. You should also be able to customize the system to meet your unique operational needs.

The system should provide straightforward integration with back-end systems, dispatch solutions, GPS fleet management technology, and other systems. Otherwise you’ll wind up moving your process bottlenecks from the field to your admin staff, who have to spend time manually moving information from one system to another.

The solution should also support multiple mobile hardware platforms and form factors. The mobile devices you deploy today can be obsolete in just a few years; you don’t want your field mobility solution tied to an outdated hardware platform.

By focusing on your own business needs, you’ll be able to select a system that is flexible enough for your operation, user-friendly, and that can empower your mobile workers to do their jobs faster and better.