Leveraging Mobile Apps With Microsoft Dynamics ERP in the Supply Chain

With most warehouse employees already toting around some type of mobile device, it just makes sense that applications would find their way into this sector of the supply chain. And while warehouse-wide mobile application implementations aren't highly publicized, it's not hard to see the tools' applicability within the distribution center. 

Kimberly Knickle, practice director at IDC Manufacturing Insights in Framingham, Mass., says mobile apps are a hot topic for manufacturers right now and points out that the proliferation of mobile devices in the supply chain has been high over the last two years. Knickle says tablets, mini tablets, and Internet-equipped smart phones have worked their way into the four walls of the warehouse.

Microsoft Dynamics users are well positioned to tap into mobile apps' usefulness in the supply chain.  There are a number of add-on mobile apps at their avail, whether for Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP, or Dynamics NAV.  In 2012, for example, Kurt Hatlevik, a warehouse management and distribution veteran at Columbus of Norway, put on display a new mobile warehouse app for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. Developed in the Microsoft Dynamics AX community, the app allows workers to directly leverage AX 2012's capabilities, and Hatlevik continues to add capabilities such as barcoding and retail management.

Mobile Apps in Action

In the distribution center, companies can use mobile devices to improve customer service, facilitate orders, manage compliance requirements, and ensure that store shelves stocked with product. Mobile apps that supply freight quotes allow managers to obtain, accept, and reject shipping prices via a portable device, while mobile printing apps help workers to more efficiently label and track goods.

Mobile devices with radio frequency (RF) capabilities can be used to expedite the pick, pack, and load processes while also ensuring higher accuracy rates. Using a mobile device and app, for example, workers can quickly see and locate both on-hand and in-transit inventory, track order statuses, and provide updated information to customers. These mobile dashboards can be conveniently stored on a smart phone or tablet and referred to as needed, even when the employee is far from the nearest desktop or laptop.

Look outside of the warehouse's four walls and you'll see more examples of mobile apps in action. There, truck drivers have been using mobile routing, real-time tracking, and mapping for years with the help of dash-mounted devices. Now they're increasingly turning to smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices to handle the same tasks both in and out of the truck. Using a mobile app, for example, a driver can access real-time information - including freight details, delivery statuses, and real-time maps. That information can be automatically shared with the company via a dashboard setup.

Other useful transportation applications that have helped reduce paperwork, phone calls, and faxes include drivers' daily logs that record driver information, mileage driven, hours of work, delivery information, and other important details; mobile apps that handle required forms (vehicle inspection, manifest, route plan, etc.); and delivery confirmation programs that utilize GPS location technology and that capture customer signatures upon delivery.

Knickle says mobile apps are particularly useful on the road, where packing, routing, and backhauling can be optimized using mobile devices combined with apps. Knickle says Microsoft Dynamics users should keep an eye on the progress being made with the vendor's mobile operating system. "We have to acknowledge that even though the potential is there," says Knickle, "we're really still in the early stages."

Overcoming the Hurdles

The mobile app movement faces a few challenges in the warehouse. Ruggedization is a key concern in an environment where devices are often dropped from high places and onto concrete floors. Interference with metal shelving and other structures is another consideration, as is intermittent Wi-Fi access in the distribution's large, open spaces.

Even with these limitations working against it, the mobile supply chain continues to plow forward, dragging the warehouse along with it. "There's definitely potential for mobile apps in the distribution center," Knickle concludes. "The hurdles aren't insurmountable, but there is definitely a transition that has to happen between the use cases and the practical aspect of using more mobile in the warehouse."

About Bridget McCrea

Bridget McCrea covers business and technology topics for various publications. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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