If you asked me in January where operators of small- and mid-sized warehouses and distribution centers should focus their technology investments this year, I would have said “purpose built mobile solutions”. Here’s why:
- Microsoft had ended its support for most Windows® mobile computers, forcing an industry-wide migration to Android™-based solutions.
- E-commerce demand was growing rapidly.
- SKU assortments were evolving.
- On-hand inventory quantities were increasing.
- Fulfillment lead times were shrinking.
- Labor availability was limited.
It was clear (to me, at least!) that widespread mobile technology utilization was becoming even more vital to every company’s efforts to improve operational visibility, worker utilization and workflow efficiency.
But now that we are months into a global pandemic, you may ask if mobility should still be the priority?
Without a doubt, yes!
All of these trends and challenges are still impacting small- and mid-sized warehouses, so I would argue that companies need to move even faster than they may have planned in January to get the right mobility solutions in workers’ hands across the supply chain.
COVID-19 has only increased the pressure and demands on businesses and their workers on the front line. Order volumes, fulfillment speeds and inventory turns have been unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It doesn’t matter if your warehouse ships to distributors, retail stores, direct to consumers or all of the above, customers have only become more dependent (and less forgiving) on exceptional supply chain performance in recent months, and this trend likely won’t subside anytime soon.
Social distancing mandates have served as a catalyst for online shopping, elevating e-commerce demand to levels that we didn’t expect to see for years. It also accelerated the conversion of retail stores into micro-fulfillment centers, requiring retailers to significantly adjust their supply chain strategies to increase inventory accessibility.
As a result, the current fulfillment tempo and inventory optimization challenges will likely persist for the foreseeable future. This means every decision maker along the supply chain, no matter the size of their business or how close (or distant) they interact with consumers, must find a way to meet customers’ expectations if they want to survive.
Choosing the right mobile technologies – computing, scanning, and printing – is key. Workers equipped with purpose-built handheld computers, tablets and wearables find it easier to manage inventory and meet shipping deadlines without making mistakes. They know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it as well as how to complete each task thanks to the actionable intelligence always available at their fingertips or, in the case of head-mounted displays, right in front of their eyes. Barcode scanners, mobile and fixed RFID scanners, RTLS systems and thermal printers all give the physical goods and materials within the supply chain a “digital voice” so that they can be tracked, assigned, picked, packed, routed and delivered to their ultimate destination swiftly, safely and efficiently.
But with so many different technologies to choose from, how are small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs) supposed to identify, and invest in, the best next solution that will deliver the most attractive ROI?
Want to Survive the Pandemic – and the Next 20 Years? Ask for Help.
Neither manufacturers, retailers nor consumers care about the size of your warehouse operation. They simply care about whether or not you can get the right products to the right place at the right time, whether that’s their distribution centers, stores or homes. Your customers are not going to wait for you to figure things out. Customers will move on to one of your competitors if you’re unable to deliver what they want, when they want it.
The clock is ticking. You have to prove your capabilities now, which means you need to expand your capabilities now – without disrupting operations or depleting your cash flow and earnings, of course. That’s why you need to partner with a technology solution provider who understands warehousing operations and the challenges faced by SMBs in particular.
The right technology partner will be able to tell you which foundational data capture and communications platforms you need to invest in first in order to be able to better sense, analyze and act on evolving customer demands, operational issues and revenue-generating opportunities. They will also be able to help you quickly identify what’s working well and, more importantly, what’s not, so that you can strategically implement technology solutions and re-engineer processes, if necessary, to improve your team’s agility, accuracy and efficiency.
True success requires a balance between short-term fixes and long-term innovation. Though mobility solutions can be deployed quickly in times of crisis (i.e. COVID-19 surge demand), any purchase decision should be made with long-term goals in mind. If you pick the right hardware and software solutions from the start, they will be easy to scale as your business priorities and demands evolve.
Again, that’s why you need to carefully scrutinize the capabilities and expertise of technology solution providers.
Remember, You’re a Customer with High Expectations Too!
Your customers expect you to deliver high-quality products with exceptional service. Why would you expect anything less from your technology solution provider?
If you are committed to coming out of this pandemic stronger and faster than you were in January, then you need to surround yourself with people who respect your ambition and will do what it takes to ensure your success. Hold your solution providers to high standards. Make sure they can fully support your solution deployment, even from a distance, and that they will pick up the phone if you have any questions or need help troubleshooting an issue after the deployment is complete – even if that’s 10 years from now.
By partnering with a technology provider that prides itself on building future-ready solutions, you’ll gain both immediate and long-term benefits – even beyond those needed to address current challenges. The right partner will help you:
1. Find the right mobile tool for each job – or the one tool that will work well for multiple jobs.
2. Ensure your software applications can be fully supported, secured and managed via the hardware you select. Remember, you need mobility solutions. The hardware and software must work in harmony.
3. Assess and, if necessary, re-engineer workflows and processes to maximize the capabilities of your mobility solution. You want to ensure your technology is fully utilized and that workers have the visibility and guidance needed to take the “best next action” every moment of the day.
Remember: COVID-19, the great Android migration and consumers’ growing affinity for online shopping can either be obstacles to progress or opportunities for growth. With the right technology solution provider by your side and the right mobility solutions in your workers’ hands, it will be easy to seize the opportunity – or at least survive whatever else 2020 (and the next decade) might throw your way.