5 Ways Mobile Devices are Transforming the Modern Warehouse

Tim Ingles
Tue, May 9, 2017
Mobile devices are having a transformative impact on the warehouse sector.
Mobile devices are having a transformative impact on the warehouse sector.

On the whole, the warehouse management system market is growing at a rapid pace. A study from Scalar Market Research found that WMS industry growth is being fueled by the increased need to meet rapid fulfillment demands in the ecommerce sector and increased technology development taking place in emerging markets.

Furthermore, general advances in the warehouse management sector are making the technology more accessible for smaller warehouses, driving potential efficiency gains.

The broad warehouse management sector isn't the only segment growing. A Stratistics MRC study found that connected logistics systems are rising quickly as organizations look to emerging technologies to support warehouse, inventory and fleet management. On the whole, connected logistics solutions accounted for $9.62 billion in revenues in 2016, with profits rising to $54.80 billion by 2022.

The rapid rise of connected logistics highlights a changing dynamic in the warehouse management market - organizations are facing new opportunities to leverage connected technologies in order to gain visibility across a wide range of operations. Getting visibility into a diverse array of systems allows organizations to coordinate activities with more precision and align business operations between departments and teams. This can be transformative as warehouse leaders look to better align every component of operations, but it is only achievable if users have the mobile devices, apps, data collection tools and similar services needed to get the job done.

Mobile devices are proving central to driving advances across the connected logistics sector. Here are five of the most prominent gains offered by mobile devices:

1. Geographic Flexibility
Imagine your organization has long operated a centralized warehouse that has, generally speaking, been able to handle fulfillment requests across your target markets. However, recent growth into new regions has left your team struggling to keep up. Opening a small branch warehouse would have felt overwhelming in the past because data integration and coordination would be a nightmare. With modern enterprise mobile solutions in place, organizations can more easily distribute data beyond central locations, so users can coordinate activities with relative ease. 

This use case expands across a variety of situations. An organization that wants to improve product delivery can roll out a specialized warehouse for products in high demand closer to customers so they can send deliveries out faster. Organizations working with suppliers in remote regions can store assets in strategic locations to avoid unnecessary shipping and storage of goods in the central warehouse.

Having a single, centralized warehouse is useful in maintaining control and visibility across operations, but it can also force a business to take on specific process and operational models that limit flexibility within the marketplace. Remote data collection and barcode scanning functionality enables companies to establish teams devoted to specific supply chain, distribution or fulfillment tasks in the most productive locations possible. This geographic flexibility can lay the groundwork for business innovation by eliminating problem-solving barriers.

2. Reduced Overhead for Remote Facilities
Many industrial organizations maintain locations in remote parts of the world where specialized operations take place. Geographic realities are a major issue in sectors heavily dependent on raw materials, natural goods or unique market dynamics. As such, there are times when a warehouse with a skeleton crew operates so far away from the primary facilities that managing the specialized facility presents a major operational burden.

Sending managers, specialists and other users out to the remote facility forces organizations to pay for travel time, but neglecting the remote warehouse isn't a viable option. Remote management functionality in modern warehouse management systems allow organizations to monitor warehouses from afar and even change parameters within automated systems to solve basic problems. This can reduce the burden associated with managing a remote facility and empower organizations to locate warehouses in the most strategically valuable locations without putting excess strain on management teams.

Furthermore, modern warehouse management systems can be designed with high availability and automated data collection and integration tools that ensure information remains up to date at all times. If the connection is lost at any point, the remote system will still keep itself running and  update the WMS when connectivity returns.

Geographical boundaries don't have to hold your warehouse back. Instead, the flexibility offered by remote management systems allows organizations to take a more strategic, intentional approach to distribution centers.

3. Adaptable Inventory Models
Emerging lean manufacturing practices are pushing organizations to eliminate waste in every way possible, and this includes reducing the number of assets sitting on shelves unused. Having valuable goods residing in the warehouse and forcing workers to take time to travel between production lines and the warehouse creates a degree of waste within production operations. Storing small numbers of parts, supplies and other assets near production can improve efficiency and reduce the inventory burden facing the warehouse.

The problem with this strategy is that, for a long time, poor visibility into inventory levels limited how businesses can monitor assets spread across their facilities. Keeping assets centralized in the warehouse makes it easier to track how many of an item the organization has and the condition those goods are in. Once assets start spreading across the facility, production teams need to be able to update inventory levels in real time or risk having their operations disrupted. This is where connected devices are paying off. Having a mobile barcode scanner located near the small caches of goods in production environments lets users log inventory updates quickly, feeding that information back into the warehouse.

Whether or not your business is interested in this variety of lean operations, the reality is that greater visibility into inventories gives you an opportunity to establish parts storage and supply strategies that align with your specific operational demands.

4. Simplified Training
Specialty warehouse technologies can be incredibly useful in meeting specific operational needs, but they can also come with a heavy training burden when staff members are asked to adjust to a new deployment. Mobile devices are familiar and comfortable as they are used so prolifically in consumer settings. Asking employees to leverage data in more nuanced ways in their operations doesn't have to prove technologically overwhelming. Instead, delivering advanced apps and services on comfortable, familiar interfaces makes it much easier to get users on board with the new solution.

5. Enhance Field Service Management
Field locations are often a blind spot for warehouse teams. Long-standing limitations into vehicle locations, the inability to immediately process work orders and inventories in the field and similar issues can make it difficult to pinpoint fleet efficiency levels. However, field services has a huge impact on both internal and external stakeholders. Giving drivers mobile devices lets them submit bills electronically during customer interactions, file inventory updates when they use assets stored in their trucks and otherwise update team members back in the warehouse as circumstances change at any given time.

Increased complexity across the supply chain, not to mention demand for greater speed and precision during the fulfillment process, is pushing organizations to establish visibility across a wider range of operations. Mobile apps and services that integrate with core warehouse and enterprise resource planning systems allow companies to get more done in the field while also providing easier visibility into those tasks.

Using Mobile Technologies to Gain a Competitive Edge
Smartphones and tablets are transforming operations across plenty of industries, and the time has come for warehouse leaders to catch up. The combination of data visibility and user friendliness offered by mobile apps is invaluable in a sector that depends so heavily on maintaining tight control over every facet of operations. Pressure to ramp up efficiency without sacrificing quality is putting a huge strain on the warehouse sector, but businesses that modernize their operations around mobile device functionality can keep up with the blistering pace of an increasingly digital world.

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