Mobility in Manufacturing—No More a “Nice to Have”

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I have been recently engaged in interesting discussions and conversations with software vendors and users on the mobile adoption of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, particularly in the manufacturing industry, and have gathered some insights on the potential challenges and benefits of mobile technologies for ERP systems for manufacturing, where mobility appears to be more of a commoditized technology rather than a “nice to have.”

While today’s workers are increasingly relying on the use of mobile devices to do their work, mobile technologies are being used not only for ensuring effective communication, but also for tasks that were previously performed at the desk during business hours.

ERP solutions for the manufacturing industry are not immune to this trend, and many software providers keep launching new and innovative mobile ERP applications that are capable of addressing an increasing number of operational functions performed by a core ERP offering for manufacturing.

So, what are the visible benefits of mobility in manufacturing?

Of course, sales and customer service are the two main areas of a manufacturing organization that are currently seeing the benefits of mobile technologies. Sales teams can have all their important product and service information, such as specs and pricing, within their mobile devices to avoid potential delays in accessing this information and to be able to provide up-to-date information to customers and prospects on the go. Customers can also register feedback and requests at anytime and from anywhere, which can be reviewed and fulfilled by customer service reps—bypassing potentially lengthy service calls.

But the benefits of mobile ERP applications also extend to the shop or plant floor. At each station on the floor that is equipped with a tablet or mobile device, users can view all the necessary information for a project or the entire production chain; log in and out of jobs; check and monitor progress percentage complete, parts produced per period, downtimes, etc.; or view statistical process control analysis in real time. Production managers can monitor and be current of the status of machines and labor at all times.

Mobility also allows access to educational and training materials as well as to job documentation, increasing the accountability of employees in terms of time and labor, as well as the quality of products they manufacture.

Mobile devices can also serve as real-time alerting systems that signal emerging problems, reducing downtimes and speeding up maintenance and repairing processes, as well as streamlining issues and incident management processes.

The end result is an agile system that maintains equipment operational at all times, as well as responds immediately and appropriately to emerging events, ensuring minimal or no impact on the progression of work activities and the efficiency of the production process.

Security: The biggest challenge for mobility in manufacturing?

Security is and will always be a fundamental concern for any technology, particularly new ones. But I think mobility is here to stay. It is an unavoidable aspect of today’s workplace.

As more people begin using mobile technologies in the workplace, the risk that sensitive and valuable data can be leaked (deliberately or inadvertently) outside an organization over insecure networks increases, thereby exposing sensitive information to enterprising hackers and criminals. Damage can be done by exposure of core production systems to malware or by unauthorized access to such systems.

As with any other information technology, the organization must develop a corporate approach to establishing and maintaining mobile security. A solid deployment roadmap needs to be developed to ensure mobile ERP solutions comply with corporate security mandates and regulations, as well as with specific security measures for mobile devices. This will result in the ability to address data security at all stages of the mobile data cycle:

  • at the source (accessing policies and strategies, firewalls, etc.),

  • during transmission (authentication of sender and receiver and encryption, etc.), and

  • at the target (bring-your-own-device [or BYOD] strategies and policies, malware and spyware detection, blocking and data erasing policies for missing devices, etc.).

Mobile security must be seen as an integrated part of the corporate security infrastructure of an organization.

In conclusion

Some of the concrete benefits from the use of mobile technologies within an ERP environment are as follows:

  • Increased and expanded visibility into all business activities.

  • Real-time access of workers and external users (customers, partners, etc.) to important information.

  • Improved worker productivity, and increased efficiency of business operations.

The increased use of mobile devices has led some organizations to undertake a corporate mobile strategy to reap the benefits of mobility. Thus, to establish a mobility platform for ERP in the manufacturing industry, one has to consider three key things—how to:

  1. set an application development approach,

  2. take advantage of all benefits of mobile devices, and

  3. reinforce mobile security measures.

These are a few other things that manufacturers might want to consider when looking at a new mobile solution for ERP. Mobile technologies can enhance an organization’s return on investment (ROI) by providing more confidence to mobile users, increasing performance from a management and user point of view, and encouraging the use of mobile best practices. With the increased use of mobile technologies in the workplace, establishing a corporate mobile strategy may soon be not an option, but a necessity—and organizations that are prepared for it will be well on their way to having a workforce that is mobile, and can work from any location, at any time.
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