Many businesses across multiple industries are investing not only in e-commerce as it continues its double-digit growth, but also smart warehousing. With the rise in interest of these technologies, businesses are seeking solutions to increase productivity and address heightened customer expectations.
Target last year announced plans to spend $7 billion to improve its supply chain efforts. UPS is investing $20 billion over the next three years to boost productivity and fulfillment capacity. And a recent survey indicates 42% of businesses expect to move forward with warehouse and distribution center spending—the highest level in four years.
“Overall, the survey reflects enthusiasm for where things are going with the economy in general, and with supply chain activity in particular,” says Donald Derewecki of supply chain consulting company St. Onge. “If you’re not investing in technology, especially in a growth economy, then your competitors are going to eat your lunch.”
Digital warehouse adoption is expected to see the greatest growth between 2017 and 2023 in real-time data gathering and interconnectivity (41 to 95%), real-time inventory management (41 to 95%), people-technology connectivity (49 to 91%), smart analytics and machine learning (17 to 89%), and warehouse mobility solutions (37 to 80%).
Mobile apps can also allow for real-time inventory management, people-technology connectivity, and smart analytics.
“The transformation from fixed desktop workstations to smartphones and mobile devices is a major step forward in gaining warehouse efficiency—it reduces the walking time substantially,” notes Cyzerg Warehouse Technology. That’s important—especially in light of growing warehouse sizes and employers’ talent challenges.
The average warehouse size is now 672,080 square feet. That’s up from last year’s 473,400-square-foot measure. And a recent study suggests 76 percent of warehouse operations plan to expand their facilities this year.
As for talent, a recent EmployBridge survey suggests warehouse operators are prepared to offer as much as $2 an hour over average wages to attract and retain workers during the 2018 holiday season. That’s because talent is at a premium give today’s single-digit unemployment.
Using mobile apps not only allows employees find what they’re looking for faster, but it also allows managers to communicate with and dispatch field workers efficiently and better-prepared. That way, warehouse operations can get more done with fewer human resources.
Of course, successful warehousing isn’t just about saving time and money. It’s also about doing things right.
For example, warehouse workers who have access to mobile apps on their tablets and phones can communicate key information to one another from warehouses apart without the need for email, phone calls, or text messages.
Mobile apps allow more efficient, flexible, and powerful documenting, storing, and distributing of data to whoever needs it. Outdoor power products company The Husqvarna Group reduced packing mistakes by 200 percent due to its adoption of a quality tracking mobile app.
This level of improvement may help explain why the industry-wide use of paper-based picking systems dropped from 62% last year to 48% this year.
Mobile apps can also help the human resources department track the location, expertise, work history, and other factors related to warehouse workers. When appropriate, some information can be made available to other mobile apps. For example, having information about the expertise and location of their workers could help warehouse managers as they assign tasks for the day.
Mobile apps can provide a current view of the availability and location of distribution center equipment. That can save warehouse managers and workers valuable time too.
Say, for example, someone in the warehouse needs a forklift to move inventory. A real-time mobile app could show what forklifts are available. And if there aren’t any forklifts available, the mobile app could show managers where the lifts are so they can decide whether and from where to pull one of them for the new job.
Workflow automation is a key factor in allowing your workers to better do their jobs in the most efficient, and flexible way.
Funnily enough, you know what leaves a better paper trail than paper? Mobile apps that you can access and interface with wherever you are. Sure, warehouse workers can make a note on paper for whoever needs to read it next, but mobile apps collect data, make it available anywhere, update it in real time, and store it for posterity.
Mobile apps can document timestamps for when work is completed. They can require a signature from the worker following completion of a task. Some mobile apps even offer the option of scanning or photographing something to illustrate the pallet, product, or issue at hand. All that serves to increase reliability, improve accountability, and let employees know what they’re doing matters and is being measured. That can have the added benefit of motivating workers to take greater care in all they do.
Real-time records paired with analytics also can provide a business with a more complete picture of what’s happening in its warehouse operations. And that can serve as fuel to help the business to drive continuous improvement.
This post was updated on November 13th, 2019.
Gwen is a marketer with AppSheet. Prior to AppSheet, she was a digital marketer, a journalist and editor, a translator, and a college teacher. She has a master with Duke University in Environmental Science and an MBA with University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.