Thursday 27th Jul 2017 - Logistics & Supply Chain

On the move

How logistics pros can become the champions of modernity in business by harnessing the power of mobile technology.

It would be good, would it not, if logistics professionals could be seen to be making a strategic contribution to the success of their businesses? In posing this question,I don’t mean to suggest that they aren’t already delivering real value to their companies. Mostly, they are.

But what’s important here is perception as much as reality. And the perception in many boardrooms is that logistics is a support function – necessary but not central to the strategic thrust of the business. So it would be nice to think that there are trends afoot which could make this change. And there are.

What set me thinking about this is the simple matter of ordering a pizza. It used to be pretty easy to do this over the phone. But now I see that Domino’s lets you do it over its website or from your mobile phone. It’s even planning to introduce an SMS order service.

Now, let’s be clear – civilisation would not be greatly damaged if it were not possible to order a deep pan with extra pepperoni in a text message. But there’s some clever strategic thinking going on here about the relationship between mobile technologies and Domino’s
target market.

Making connections

Pizza is the on-the-run food of choice for 30 somethings who live a never-stop-still lifestyle. Their preferred means of communication is by mobile. So it makes sense to connect them by that route to their favourite food. It’s interesting that Domino’s has clearly got the mobile technology bug. It also lets the franchisees who run many of its stores download management information on sales performance to their PDAs.

This is important because it lets the stores check how they’re doing against others in terms of getting orders out of the door. The time from the order to the pizza turning up on the hungry customer’s doorstep is critical in the business. If management stats show that a store is missing the target, the problem can be spotted fast so that extra staff can be drafted in to cope.

There’s nothing particularly clever about the technology Domino’s uses to do all this. It’s the kind of stuff that’s available off the shelf. But what is important is that the company’s business processes have been reshaped to put mobile technology at the heart of them.

Domino’s has become a company in which customers and staff can interact while both are on the move. And, no doubt, it will be reaping a sales reward as a result.

Logistics pros are no strangers to using IT in the supply chain process. Let’s face it, many have sweated blood over the years getting early versions of warehouse software to work. I suspect this hard grind may have blinded some logistics pros to the bigger issue.

What’s really important in IT now is not just using computers in a particular function such as warehousing or accounting but joining up the business, and putting the customer at its centre, in the way Domino’s has done.

Why there are still too few businesses around doing this is because each function tends to maintain a silo mentality about its IT. This is where logistics could score. By taking a cross-functional view of a business’s processes, supply chain specialists could be the
champions to point the way to the use of joined-up IT, and especially new mobile technologies. After all, what’s the core skill in a supply chain? Linking processes.

The key to the logistics challenge is to start from the outside rather than the inside. What I mean is, start by asking the question – how could we make life easier for our customers by using mobile technologies? Why not ask them? Start by designing a process that begins with
what the customer wants, then re-engineer the company’s processes to deliver it.

Of course, the technology is important but it’s more important to remember it’s only a facilitator of a new way of doing business. Exciting as many of the new mobile gizmos are, they’re not an end in themselves. Understanding what the customer wants then getting the
process right to deliver it is, I reckon, 80 per cent of the battle. Most of the rest is going to be about training staff in a new way of working.

PETER BARTRAM IS A BUSINESS WRITER AND JOURNALIST, A REGULAR COLUMNIST FOR SCS, AND THE AUTHOR OF TWENTY BOOKS

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