The Mobile Supply Chain Market: Preparing for Takeoff
By Bill McBeath
on Jul 20, 2010
The merger of Airclic and AirVersent, two leaders in vertical industry/process-specific mobile supply chain applications, is a sign of the maturing of mobile platforms and the beginning of a strong growth period for mobile supply chain systems.
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Early entrants in this space focused primarily on horizontal infrastructure capabilities, such as device provisioning, device-independence, security, middleware, database and enterprise application connectivity, device management, messaging, and workflow/rules engines. Examples include Sybase’s Unwired Platform, Spring Wireless’ MEAP, Antenna Software’s AMP, Syclo, and PointSync. These mobility platforms attempt to address some serious issues for IT departments, such as the major security vulnerabilities created by the increasing use of mobile devices connected to the corporate network, vendor/device lock-in, and the time and effort required to create and manage mobile applications.
There have been vertical solutions in areas like m-Commerce, sales force automation, and service automation, but not so many in supply chain. Airclic and AirVersent (now merged into Airclic) are early movers into fully vertical applications specifically designed for mobile supply chain and logistics. They have both taken a very targeted approach in their application offerings. How targeted? Here are some examples of offerings aimed at very specific processes within specific industries:
Clinical Lab Specimen Delivery Tracking—The ability to manage the pickup, delivery, and location of specimens sent to clinical labs for testing (as well as the supplies and the drivers of those vehicles) in real time. This includes specimen temperature tracking, container management (checking that specimens are in the correct type of container), and chain-of-custody reporting based on data captured at the hand-off points.
Food Distribution—Ability to manage the distribution of food orders from pickup and delivery, to invoicing. Specifically, the ability to split pallets at point of delivery, and truck mapping (almost like a mini-WMS for the truck, telling the driver which compartment and location in the truck to pick from). Managing OS&D (over, short, and damaged) out in the field in real time at the time of delivery, including food-specific adjustment like catch weight for fish, poultry, and meat. Resolve issues and get customer sign-off at the point of delivery, when both parties are there with actual delivered goods. Real-time calculation of rebates, fuel surcharges, and taxes allowing the printing of a clean final invoice that the customer signs off at the point of delivery.
Courier - 3PL—Ability to manage the load from pick up to delivery and everywhere in between. Specifically, Airclic’s software receives orders directly from the customer’s order management system and disseminates them to the respective 3PL, and can interface with route optimization and dispatching systems. Deliveries are scanned at pickup and signatures are captured at drop off. GPS tracking gives dispatchers and customers visibility throughout the day as to the whereabouts of the drivers and the items being delivered. Exceptions (such as a refused delivery) feed into the customer’s backend system, enabling clean invoices to be sent immediately. Management dashboards are provided to monitor performance against service level agreements (SLA).
Medical Equipment Delivery—Ability to manage pickup and delivery of medical equipment and supplies to be distributed to the clinics, hospitals and/or other health care facilities. Specifically, mobile forms and workflows aid in the compliance of regulatory and reporting requirements; including special instructions for operation provided within the product.
Auto Parts Distribution—Ability to manage the timely delivery of items from a distribution point to a customer. In auto parts distribution, Service Level Agreements are very strict—e.g. 30 minute delivery, with very steep penalties—because the repair shop has the car up on a lift and has promised a repair time to their customer. It’s very expensive to stock every part at every location; so, Airclic connects to the distributor's inventory management system to find the nearest location (whether retail or distribution center) with the part for delivery.
Both Airclic and AirVersent started off as more horizontal mobile platform providers, but decided that their success lay in vertical, process-specific offerings. Given the similarity in their approaches, it’s only natural that Airclic and AirVersent merged. This transaction makes Airclic a major player in a small market. But don’t expect it to stay small for long. Why is the time right for mobile supply chain?
Device and Service Affordability—Mobile device and network service prices are lower than ever.
Device and Network Ubiquity—Practically everyone has a cell phone. Many people are at ease using a range of capabilities (e.g. camera, GPS) running sophisticated personal apps. And the network coverage, while far from perfect, keeps improving.
Device and Network Capabilities—Devices packed with increasingly powerful features, processing power, and memory. Network speeds keep getting faster and services richer.
All of these trends show no signs of abating and will continue over the next decades. The fourth piece of the puzzle is pre-built, process-specific applications offered in a SaaS model, making it so much easier to get started than in the old days when you had to build it yourself. The barriers to adoption are continually being lowered, making it easier and easier for firms to decide that they can and should implement mobile supply chain capabilities. As supply chain managers see their peers implementing these new ways of doing things, it will become a competitive imperative.
In the 90s, there was a sort of desktop revolution, to the point where now virtually every office worker has a PC on their desk, connected to the network, running applications designed specifically for the processes in their particular job. We just take it for granted. In ten years, the same will be true of mobile supply chain applications for the workers out in the field. Let the mobile supply chain revolution begin!
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