It is at the point of sale and delivery that the battle for supply chain optimisation and competitive edge can be won or lost.
The key enabler is real time data relaying from the field, writes Paul Sykes (pictured), managing director, mobile data specialist StockMarshal.
The manufacturers delivery fleet and sales personnel are jointly at the front line of supply chain operations. Therefore, if information gathered at both the point of sale and point of delivery is either inaccurate or not speedily relayed back to the organisation, the entire supply chain can be affected. This can result in badly judged stock requirements, poorly scheduled production activity and a loss of reputation with the customer due to inaccurate consignment of goods, long due dates or late deliveries. In order to avoid erroneous or delayed sharing of important sales and operational data across the supply chain, the most critical weapon in the frontline operators armoury is the latest mobile data capture software functionality coupled with a proven handheld wireless terminal.
Historically, manufacturers have relied on sales staff in the field to discuss order requirements with customers, then either phone through the more time critical information or fill out a paper-based report on their return to base, which could be a day or two later. In recent times, a preferred method has been to directly transfer data from field sales personnels laptops to back office systems, thus avoiding the need for re-keying and the potential data inaccuracies that could ensue. Now, with developments in wireless technology and mobile software functionality, things have moved on further. The best mobile solutions can provide sales agents with access to all product and pricing information while discussing orders at the point of sale. This not only speeds up order processing but also means orders can be updated or changed and relayed to the enterprise ready to action while sales staff are still with the customer. In this way delivery times can be shortened, production scheduling efficiencies optimised, appropriate stock levels prepared in a timely fashion and goods delivered to the customer faster.
Similar to sales staff, delivery personnel have traditionally supplied their organisation with consignment and point-of-delivery data in the form of a written paper-based report together with the customers delivery confirmation signature on their return. This can result in costly delays in supply chain execution and be extremely inefficient in terms of the amount of space required to store reams of hard copy reports. In the case of data deemed particularly time critical, the mobile phone has been used to relay customer order update information etc. However, through being conveyed verbally, the communicator runs the danger of being misheard or misunderstood, potentially resulting in extremely costly supply chain confusion.
Now, with wireless technology and mobile computing software, a customers signature confirming required goods and quantities can be captured electronically on the mobile hand set and relayed in real time back to the organisation. Supply chain operations can therefore begin quicker and with more confidence. All sales and delivery information including exact consignment departure and point of delivery times can then be stored as an accurate sales history record and be analysed by back-office systems to better forecast future demand trends from individual customers.
For the modern delivery and sales fleet, the benefits of wireless enabled mobile computing are too many and varied to ignore. From a back office perspective, visibility and accuracy of required inventory levels will be increased; the time of fleet delivery and sales personnel can be better monitored and utilised through real-time communication and activity logging, production forecasting and scheduling can be improved, space can be more sensibly employed due to the reduction in reliance on paper, and the standing of the organisation in the eyes of the customer can only be enhanced due to quicker and more accurate deliveries. Such improved efficiencies all point to a faster reacting, more cost-efficient supply chain regime, not to mention a rapid return on investment in the case of the mobile computing software and accompanying hand-held terminal.