Global supply chains have been under immense pressure over the past year. Unprecedented demand for online goods, critical medical supplies and more, coupled with worldwide stock shortages, has left supply chains struggling to keep up with ever-increasing customer needs and expectations. Indeed, recent research suggests that the pandemic disrupted more than three-quarters (78 percent) of supply chains.
The pandemic brought awareness to the supply chain industry that agility is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity to manage changes in consumer demand, constantly evolving technologies and unexpected disruption. As the world slowly starts to reopen and supply chains learn to cope with the unpredictability of the coming months and years, businesses must look at the future of solutions to remain competitive, continue to fulfill orders and satisfy customer needs. Agility is the key to succeeding beyond the pandemic and adapting to an uncertain future, no matter what arises.
Enhancing supply chain productivity
For supply chain and warehouse businesses, worker productivity will be crucial to keep up with continued market demand and growth. In eCommerce for example, consumers judge brands based on their ability to deliver orders quickly and on time, so workplace efficiency will ensure retail supply chains can keep up with customer expectations. Therefore, supply chains need to select a mobile operating system (OS) that is optimized for both supply chain processes and the user experience. However, businesses are now faced with a growing number of options when making that choice as traditional Windows and Android operating systems are now competing with Apple’s iOS. Despite the often-high cost associated with the latter, adoption is growing in some sectors, namely pharmaceutical and retail, as they are drawn to the security, manageability and consumer-grade user interface features. What’s more, Windows CE’s recent end of support date will encourage supply chains to modernize and migrate to new devices.
Businesses should leverage compatible software for all three to rapidly and securely migrate existing Telnet and web apps to Android, iOS and Windows 10. This means that supply chains can choose which devices they wish to run within their supply chains. This will offer the same view and a consistent user experience on each device to maximize worker productivity and accuracy, decrease downtimes, reduce onboarding times and ultimately keep customers happy.
The impact of the pandemic pushed the world of eCommerce ahead by around 5 years – and this isn’t expected to slow down any time soon. The more that eCommerce and consumer demands grow, the greater the need to improve warehouse processes. To keep up with demands, many warehouses are exploring voice-enabled technology to help them work smarter, faster and more efficiently.
Through voice-enabled technology, long gone are the days of referring to a piece of paper to know what orders need picking or packing. Instead, warehouse employees can take advantage of hands-free alternatives and complete their work more accurately.
In fact, through voice technology, workers can achieve up to 25 percent more productivity and a 35 percent drop in errors. To maximize the benefits of voice-enabled solutions, businesses should look for an easy and fast deployment with little to no downtime and simple employee training. An effective solution will also offer the flexibility and versatility to scale up or down as needed. Voice technologies provide warehouses with the tools to quickly adapt to sudden spikes in consumer demands and accelerate those businesses into the future of supply chains.
The rise of Industrial IoT
The supply chain is also in the midst of the revived growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). While the shift was already underway before the pandemic hit, Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of the IIoT as supply chains have been unable to operate in traditional ways. IoT devices are connected to the internet, and therefore each other, to communicate effectively and transfer data without the need for human intervention. When applied to the supply chain industry, IoT devices are hugely beneficial. From mobile operating systems to voice-enabled technologies, the connectivity they provide can enable real-time inventory visibility and asset tracking as goods move down the chain, predictive maintenance of machinery and equipment to avoid unplanned downtime, allow employees to focus on higher-value responsibilities, and early identification of issues caused by good getting lost or delayed.
An IIoT network can facilitate the introduction of automated ‘co-bots’, or collaborative robots, and reduce training times for employees by encouraging better integration between the user and the connected devices in the warehouse. However, this can be a double-edged sword as although the IIoT can increase efficiencies and empower supply chain workers to operate more effectively, it also means more devices need to be managed and controlled to ensure that nothing goes wrong.
Supply chain organizations must therefore take steps to mitigate IIoT issues, including making sure all edge devices are properly managed and cared for. With this, companies are also starting to transform their mindset to Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) being the new Mobile Device Management (MDM). MDM capabilities are critical for maintaining control of connected supply chain devices and assets, keeping them secure, available and accessible. The combined solutions optimize device performance by allowing businesses to configure, deploy, update and maintain all devices in one simple system. What’s more, it can enable a hands-off approach to device management that removes the need for manual interaction by remotely managing all connected devices. The ability to manage devices from a distance is crucial as the impact of the pandemic remains and supply chain businesses look to deploy a permanent hybrid or flexible working environment.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that circumstances can unexpectedly change within a matter of days, or even hours. Supply chains must be prepared to tackle sudden disruption, continue business as usual and secure their place in tomorrow’s world by taking the steps to improve their productivity and agility. Whether that is achieved with upgrades to mobile device software, the integration of complementary devices into the IIoT, the adoption of new and innovative solutions or reducing downtime with automated device management, it is vital that businesses leverage supportive technologies that give them the power to optimize these decisions.
Marcus Jeffery, UK & Ireland Territory Manager, Ivanti Wavelink