Supply Chain Management: The challenges & rewards of managing movement


One of the most powerful forces shaping modern business is the ever-increasing speed and frequency in the movement of people and things across global networks and supply chains. Managing the movement of everything from employees to products to physical assets to vehicles grows increasingly challenging. Meeting these new challenges requires innovative ways to automate or streamline complex operations. Fortunately, a broad spectrum of supply chain management solutions has emerged that do so with ever-greater effectiveness.

The most visible movement is that of employees. More workers than ever are doing their jobs from hotel rooms, coffee shops and their homes. They’re even working from planes and trains as Internet access reaches the skies and rails. This mobile and remote workforce increasingly relies on mobile devices and web applications to get work done. In areas such as expense management and tracking, apps that can be accessed from a phone or tablet streamline workflow and add an element of efficiency to managing business.

The Geographic Distribution of Job Functions

But beyond daily tasks, core job functions also take place from a growing variety of locations. Asset management, for example, involves scanning or entering data about items virtually everywhere, from warehouses where they are received, stored and dispatched to offices and other facilities where they are delivered and used. This often involves dedicated scanners transmitting collected data via Wi-Fi.

In these instances too there are benefits to letting workers use popular mobile devices, including iOS and Android smart phones and tablets, to scan or enter data and transmit it. For one thing, it makes it possible to connect via 3G and 4G LTE cellular links in addition to Wi-Fi, and that greatly expands the number of places where data input can take place.

All of this means that managing movement by providing mobile access to automated operations increases the efficiency of many operations, including spend and expense managementasset management or inventory management; and supply chain management.

Managing Movement in Transportation

Another place where managing movement can make a big difference is in the transportation of products and components. As noted in a previous post, onshoring of manufacturing by domestic companies is rising. Onshoring involves importing components to be manufactured domestically into finished products, as opposed to importing finished products themselves. A side effect of this change is an exponential increase in the number of items being procured and transported from overseas. A related effect is that crucial items may enter the supply chain in any number of new locations.

Coping with these effects requires state-of-the-art capabilities in a number of areas, including e-procurement. Without improved management technology the advantages of onshoring can easily disappear.

One aspect of transportation deserves particular attention. The operation of fleets of vehicles offers huge opportunities for efficiency improvement. Transportation management is related to both asset management and warehouse management. A key component is of course vehicles, often referred to as rolling assets. But the parts, supplies, products and other items the vehicles carry are also important, not to mention the activities of the employees who use the vehicles.

There are a number of ways to make this kind of operation more efficient. They include scheduling the most time- and cost-effective routes, which among other things can improve the accuracy of delivery times. All of this leads to improvements in asset tracking, which in turn improves purchasing decisions. Efficiency is a virtuous circle that benefits all facets of an organization.