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Want to Mobilize Your Warehouse/DC? Don’t Wait to Make a Move

Chess is all about strategy. So is mobility. Even if you have the right game plan mapped out, waiting to execute a critical move until you “absolutely have to” may place the odds of winning (easily) against you.

Perhaps that’s why I was so perplexed when Bridget McCrea recently reported in Logistics Management that many Warehouse and Distribution Center decision makers were “simply waiting until their existing technology becomes obsolete to upgrade” to mobile technologies inside the four walls.

‘Three out of four transportation and logistics organizations agree that mobility is “more critical to their organizations today than it was last year.”’ The right mobile technologies are available today and keeping early adopters “ahead of the curve” inside the warehouse/DC. Mobility is even surging within Transportation and Distribution operations outside the four walls due, in part, to pressure from “regulatory burdens, capacity crunches, and driver surges.”

So then why are many of the same decision makers opting to rely on outdated paper-based processes and underperforming technologies inside the warehouse/DC? No one wants to be put into a checkmate position, and constantly playing defense – trying to “fix” issues as they emerge – can be costly for the fast-paced warehouse/DC environment. That’s why my colleagues and I encourage customers to be more proactive in their mobilization as much as possible versus waiting for these “breaking points” noted in the Logistics Management article:

  • David Krebs, president of enterprise mobility and connected devices at VDC Research, indicated that the sunsetting of legacy Windows® OS may push shippers “to replace their Windows OS-supported platforms with more modern and flexible options.”
  • True, but if you had rugged tablets as your primary PC platform, this wouldn’t be an issue. Most rugged tablets don’t require a mobile OS; they can run Android™, but they can also run the same Windows OS as your executives’ laptop or desktop platforms. The best rugged tablets are the ones that can offer continued compatibility for future Windows versions (such as Windows 10) without device replacement requirements. This becomes a win-win for both software and hardware lifecycles.
  • In some cases, replacing applications that aren’t forward-migratable, as Krebs suggested, will force organizations to upgrade their mobile devices to accommodate new applications.
  • Again, by utilizing a flexible PC platform with enough processing power, storage capacity, and I/O connectivity (i.e. a rugged tablet), you gain the longevity needed to continually add and modernize software and applications for 3, 5, or even 10 years without trouble – or device replacement. The key is to select expandable hardware and software solutions and partners flexible enough to help you quickly adapt to changing data and industry demand long after the initial deployment.
  • “If a company has already made the investment in RF devices, and if those systems are working, then it really doesn’t see the need to invest in smartphones and tablets…”
  • Decision makers just need proof that introducing new mobile technologies into the mix doesn’t require an abandonment of previous RF terminals, barcode scanners, or automated inventory management systems. We as vendors, resellers, and even integrators need to clearly demonstrate how rugged tablets, for example, serve as a complementary full PC platform that connects all these devices together better. We need to introduce the tablet PC as the main “brain” of the operation. Warehouse/DC leaders need a clear understanding of the role that rugged tablets play in centralizing the input/output of data from other tech systems in a way that allows for easier data access, more accurate data capture, faster data collation, and more efficieblog-mobilize-warehouse-Feb16-300nt task completion.

Bottom line: Many of the warehouse/DC industry’s existing “solutions” – whether paper or piecemeal technologies – are not sustainable, not even today. Managers and warehouse floor workers alike have to compensate for the lag in real-time information received via paper systems. Aggregating data from disparate devices, software, and applications is unmanageable long-term and frustrating now. All of the above leads to inefficiencies that will hinder organizations’ output capability, if they aren’t starting to suffer already.

The advantage gained by waiting and watching what works and what doesn’t can be lost by lingering inaction. In fact, waiting gives your competitor an advantage. Plus, waiting costs money – especially in an industry that is as competitive as it is – where implementing an improvement that increases profitability can mean the business’ continued survival.

There is always compromise in budget priorities. We will always weigh the risks vs. benefits of using an older, internally-proven system against using a newer, industry-proven system. The fear of the unknown could always be an excuse to delay a significant system upgrade. But none are strong enough arguments for “waiting on the sidelines” when the best move forward is mobility, especially when all can be mitigated with the right strategy, training, and timing.

It takes time to overhaul a logistics system that hasn't been refreshed in decades in some instances and scale the new platform across the entire operation. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither will a perfectly oiled mobility machine be stood up in a week. Auto manufacturers start designing their newest models 7 years ahead of scheduled delivery dates and start production with a 3-6 month lead time. That allows them to test performance, tweak designs, and teach dealerships and technicians on new features prior to mass rollout. They also spend months touting the advantages of the new technologies to consumers to secure mass market acceptance – and ideally adoption – of their new offerings.

This same process applies to the design of new mobile solutions within the warehouse/DC. Even if there’s been a rapid uptake of mobile technologies among goods transporters, your employees within the four walls won’t automatically buy into the advantages of changing their ways. If all they’ve known for 20 years is paper picking and packing systems, there’s a learning curve that needs to be overcome. Even if you’ve leveraged RF terminals or other portable computing devices in your business processes historically, a new form factor (laptop or smartphone to tablet PC), a new operating system (Windows to Android), or a new tablet PC (different manufacturer) will require a breaking-in period. Only the decision makers that handled the new technology selection and solution design will be familiar with the ins and outs of the solution. You have to assume that everyone else – from executive leadership, to IT support staff, to end-users – will require extensive training prior to any new mobile technology introduction.

Don’t abandon your old systems until you know that your end-users won’t abandon your new mobile technology systems. But don’t wait to start the process until you don’t have any viable system in place, either.

See Related Blog: Why Tablets Trump Paper in the Warehouse >>