How to Ditch Paper for Digital Inventory with Mobile Barcoding

  • Data Collection
  • Digital Transformation
  • Industry 4.0 / IIoT
  • Inventory/Warehouse


Mobile devices have fundamentally shaped the modern world. In the supply chain, the cost of enterprise mobility plans, security worries, and technical management concerns remain key roadblocks to mobile-focused innovation. The result is an operational climate in which many businesses are still relying on old-fashioned, inefficient manual practices such as paper and data entry to support their day-to-day operations.

Implementing mobile barcode scanners and smartphone apps aren’t just useful in their own right, they’re also stepping stones to deeper digital strategies. Digital transformation is more critical than ever as businesses try to stay competitive in a fast-moving supply chain filled with uncertainty.

Your operation may not be ready for cutting-edge technologies like blockchain, internet of things (IoT), or augmented reality (AR). But you might not have long to get ready, either. In the meantime, mobile barcoding is a cost-effective value-add for any digital inventory tracking system.

DOWNLOAD NOW: RFgen’s 2022 Digital Inventory Report »

Barriers to Mobility Implementation

There are plenty of barriers to making inventory management mobile. Implementing smartphones, tablets, and mobile barcode scanners automatically creates challenges in technical limitations, cost, and complexity. Because of this, many organizations remain wary of mobile device use in their production, warehouse, and industrial environments.

Often, they don’t realize the benefits in terms of efficiency and ROI.

Why Inventory Should Be Digital

Empower your team with digital inventory and mobile software that enables your operation to digitize paperwork and automate manual processes.
Empower your team with digital inventory and mobile software that enables your operation to digitize paperwork and automate manual processes.

While concerns about the cost and complexity of a mobility plan are understandable, the benefits far outweigh those worries. This is especially true as mobile inventory technologies continue to mature and become more accessible.

Empowering your teams with mobile software enables your operation to digitize paperwork and automate manual processes. Streamlined data flowing in real time between business systems means operations can remain flexible and agile to changing conditions.

Mobile inventory can have a sweeping impact on warehouse operations without undue financial or technical burden. A few benefits you can expect when leveraging technologies like mobile barcoding include:

  • Faster data collection contributes to productivity gains and allows fewer workers to get more done.
  • Workers spend less time performing manual cycle counts and finding items, improving warehouse throughput and contributing to sales growth.
  • Real-time data collection and integration fuels heightened visibility into asset dispositions at any given time, allowing for excess inventory reduction and freeing working capital.
  • All of these capabilities add up to accelerate turnaround times and improve the customer experience.
  • A mobile-enabled digital inventory system reduces error rates by eliminating data entry, reducing costs from avoidable mistakes.

However, it’s also important to understand that mobile inventory solutions don’t operate in isolation. Instead, they serve as a critical bridge to continued digital innovation in your technical landscape.

ALSO READ: How to make inventory control 100% paperless and mobile »

Keeping Pace with Digital Change

Emerging technologies are making advanced digital solutions more accessible than ever, leading to rapid adoption of new solutions. Industrial organizations can’t afford to sit back with traditional processes and expect to remain relevant in their market spaces.

New technologies aren’t just emerging, they’re exploding onto the scene. If you’re left still using paper for daily supply chain operations, you may have already fallen behind.

Here are a few supply chain technologies already disrupting the global market:

  • The IIoT market is expanding quickly: Global IIoT solutions are projected to grow by 23.1% CAGR from 2022 to 2030, Grand View Research found. The market has already seen an increase from $115 billion in 2016 to $263 billion in 2021.
  • Wearable devices hold strong: BIS Research found that the global market for augmented reality (AR) will reach nearly $200 billion by 2025, achieving a massive 65.1% CAGR since 2017. Meanwhile, other wearable devices are estimated to continue expansion through 2022 at 11% CAGR, according to Technavio.
  • Big push to operating in the cloud: 51% of supply chain companies surveyed in the RFgen 2022 Digital Inventory Report are using or plan to use cloud-based SaaS software in their inventory operations.
  • Mobile barcode scanning dominates the market: RFgen Software also found that 83% of supply chain organizations employ barcode scanning for inventory management. 78% have implemented partial or full inventory mobility.
  • Physical automation is on the rise: Based on the same report, 19% of inventory operations utilize advanced physical automation devices. 14% use RFID. 9% have integrated autonomous vehicles (AVs) or helper co-bots.

LEARN MORE: The state of digital inventory management in 2022 »

IoT in the Supply Chain: A Digital Revolution

Mobile technology and IoT are transforming the supply chain and highlighting the importance of digital inventory.
Mobile technology and IoT are transforming the supply chain and highlighting the importance of digital inventory.  

The supply chain operates with small margins. Globalization and the pandemic have put immense pressure on manufacturers to remain competitive. Complexity abounds.

Fulfilling a single order may require connecting with:

  • A raw material vendor operating on a different continent.
  • Several warehouses covering multiple service regions.
  • A production environment that demands flexibility and adaptability that wasn’t expected in the past.
  • Fulfillment processes that must keep pace with shipping expectations set by consumer e-commerce leaders, such as Amazon.

Industry leaders have gotten ahead by using must-have digital technologies like digital inventory software. Mobile barcoding extends those capabilities significantly, helping companies gain end-to-end visibility in their operations, across multiple locations and lines of business.

Mobile barcoding automates the data collection process, forming an essential foundation for the fourth industrial revolution: Industry 4.0. A holistic, digitally-enabled ecosystem that connects to all relevant enterprise business systems is needed. So is an effective mobility strategy.

What is IoT in the Supply Chain?

Central to Industry 4.0 (and even Industry 5.0) is the internet of things (IoT). IoT refers to networked assets including sensors, connected appliances, smartphones, barcode scanners, and similar devices operating in a cohesive system. IoT has gained a strong following in industrial settings because it enables organizations to connect devices so they automatically communicate key data to relevant stakeholders.

A specialized Industrial IoT (IIoT) has also emerged. IIoT refers to IoT solutions designed specifically for use in industrial environments. IIoT is quickly becoming a low-cost opportunity for digital innovation.

The Importance of Mobility for IoT/IIoT

Embracing digital technologies creates transparency into everything from sales to production and fulfillment, allowing manufacturers to adopt service-oriented business models that emphasize customer relationships.

However, businesses that have not adopted mobile software for inventory and related technologies remain unable to take full advantage of the IIoT. There is still a major gap between the raw data collected by the IIoT and how that information is used. The result is a mobility gap in which employees still can’t get the right data at the right time—like the critical inventory data they use on a daily basis.

The mobility gap serves as a major barrier to digital transformation. Investing in the right mobile inventory tools catalyzes digital progress while setting the stage for continued and future innovation. A mobile barcoding solution easily closes that gap.

DIG DEEPER: Industry 4.0 resources for mobile inventory »

Embracing Digital Mobility for Inventory Management

Planning makes digital inventory profitable
A sound strategic plan can make your digital inventory more accurate and profitable.

Mobile devices take many forms: smartphones, tablets, barcode scanners, voice-picking headsets, AR-enabled safety glasses—the list goes on. But implementing a mobile inventory strategy is more than just deploying devices. It’s about creating a fast, efficient digital landscape that empowers users to interact with data in more intuitive, flexible ways.

In most cases, you will begin by looking for a mobile inventory solution that can solve your specific operational pain points. For example:

  • Reducing cycle count times and employee workloads with mobile barcode scanners.
  • Reallocating work quickly due to sudden shifts in production priorities.
  • Collecting inventory data from separate warehouses into one or more ERP systems.
  • Improving safety and efficiency with wave picking and voice picking.
  • Supporting multiple facilities using a remote mobile management platform for IT.
  • Aligning field services with ERP records through offline data collection and signature confirmation.
  • Tracking fixed assets across a large geographical footprint.

To name a few. The benefits of digital inventory control are too numerous to list.

ALSO READ: Digital mobile inventory success stories »

Tips for Making Your Digital Inventory Mobile


A mobile inventory strategy can seem overwhelming when you try to do everything at once. The key is to be strategic, have a plan, and do your research. Beyond that, here are some tips on getting started with mobile inventory:

  1. Choose a manageable scope for your first mobile project. From there, you can set yourself up for expansion into other areas and future innovation.
  2. As you implement more mobile inventory applications, develop a strategy to bring data together under a common umbrella, such as an ERP.
  3. Leverage mobile barcoding software to connect and bridge gaps between databases.
  4. Ensure that new mobile technologies provide validated or certified integration with core business systems. For example, integrating mobile apps certified for SAP, Microsoft D365, or Oracle ERPs.
  5. Work with solution providers that offer a blend of ERP experience and industry expertise. This combination will enable you to get the most from your mobile investment.

Visit the RFgen Resource Center for additional information on mobile barcoding best practices and implementation.

Take the First Step in Your Digital Inventory Strategy

Digital is the way of the future. Enterprise mobility takes digitization one step further, making data actionable for users across every component of the supply chain. Manual inventory processes are the great barrier to this operational vision.

Emerging technologies like IIoT and autonomous vehicles may seem distant. Their widespread use—and their integration into data collection activities—is closer than you think. While you don’t have to adopt every new technology for inventory management, taking the first steps toward full mobile automation is becoming critical, regardless of where you stand in your digital transformation journey.

Mobility remains one of the most effective catalysts for digital transformation. Replace manual processes with digital automation and make it mobile. The time to trim the operational fat holding you back and put your business on the path to sustained digital innovation is now.