Pervasive Mobility Creates New Business Challenges

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Enterprises must navigate a chaotic mobile environment that requires new technologies, new IT skills and far more comprehensive governance policies.

Mobility Feeds Progress

Pervasive mobility is helping organizations manage internal resources and tackle complicated logistics more effectively. Chicago-based Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the nation, procures food and distributes it to 202 food banks and more than 61,000 nonprofit partner agencies serving every county across the United States.

The organization moves more than 3 billion pounds of food annually, notes Kevin Lutz, vice president of technology. "Getting food products to food banks in a timely manner is critical," he says. "Every dollar we save equals about eight additional meals."

Early in 2013, Feeding America, which has about 8,500 employees, introduced a pilot mobility program using the SAP Mobile Platform. Truck drivers in the field use a Motorola Symbol handheld device that uses cellular signals and WiFi to track daily inventory across the entire supply chain.

The drivers electronically log items entering and leaving the system, replacing the pencil and paper and manual tracking methods that are more prone to error. The organization also uses GPS vehicle routing. "It's all about receiving the product, storing the product and delivering the product in the most timely and efficient manner possible," Lutz says.

The mobility systems have helped Feeding America trim fuel costs, improve maintenance procedures and streamline food collection processes.

"In some cases, a driver might need to pick up a pallet of food and get it to the endpoint very quickly," Lutz explains, "as many of these products are close to their expiration date. In the morning, the drivers are able to record donations on their handheld device and build up an inventory, providing receipts to donors in the field. In the afternoon, they are able to drop off the food supplies and deduct the inventory."

Along the way, executives at headquarters have a central view of all inventory. The information is also valuable for food safety purposes, Lutz adds.

Over the next few years, Feeding America will roll out the mobility program nationally, and it is now exploring the use of smartphones in the field—something that Lutz says could significantly lower costs. It also has introduced mobile apps for consumers and partners and adopted other initiatives. For instance, it is now developing a feature designed to create a more efficient marketplace.

"For smaller donations, we would notify a local organization that food is available rather than sending out a truck," Lutz says. "It takes us out of the loop and makes it more economical for smaller donations to flow directly from the giver to the recipients."

Automating Workflows

Building the best possible system was a key objective for Markwest Energy Partners, a 1,000-person company that gathers, processes and transports oil and gas products to refineries. In the past, the Denver-based firm was shackled with cumbersome manual approval processes that became further complicated by traveling executives and field operations that weren't always in touch with the company's headquarters.

"In some cases, we have trailers and workers located in remote areas where cellular communication isn't available, and it can take days or weeks to get a signature," says Andrew Eberhard, senior IT application architect for Markwest.

In fact, getting an authorization for expenditure (AFE) document signed had become "a huge bottleneck," he says. "It was affecting the company's efficiency and the bottom line."

To solve that problem, in December 2011, the company deployed K2's BlackPearl business workflow platform and began supporting iPads and iPhones in the field. Where cellular connectivity didn't exist, the company worked with telecom providers to install cell towers near worksites. "The goal was to automate workflows, standardize processes and expedite signatures," he says.

This article was originally published on 2013-06-28

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for Baseline.

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