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Leveraging Mobility To Extend Lean Transformations (Pt. II)

In today’s business environment, with the proliferation of smarter handheld devices, wireless technological advances and globalization, mobility has now become inevitable for enterprises. This is part two of a two-part series on leveraging mobility to extend Lean manufacturing. Part one can be found here .

In today’s business environment, with the proliferation of smarter handheld devices, wireless technological advances and globalization, mobility has now become inevitable for enterprises.

This is part two of a two-part series on leveraging mobility to extend Lean manufacturing. Part one can be found here.


Though we might not realize, we are in the midst of a mobile computing evolution era. Today, the consumer as well as enterprise workforce has become increasingly mobile and ‘always-on’. They are demanding any-time, any-location and any-device information access without being chained to their desktop or office premise. In today’s business environment, with the proliferation of smarter handheld devices, wireless technological advances and globalization, mobility has now become inevitable for enterprises. The same is largely true for manufacturing enterprises as well.

The primary challenges that enterprises in the manufacturing industry face are very similar to other industries, however they are aggravated by the long and complex supply value-chain. Recent economic turmoil and market instability has resulted in increased pressure on industry’s wafer-thin margins leading to closure of high-cost manufacturing facilities, bankruptcies, frequent workforce downsizings, and product recall nightmares. This has inevitably led enterprises to find alternative approaches to reduce their supply chain cost to remain competitive and sustain in a cut-throat environment.

To achieve cost optimization, many manufacturing enterprises have embarked and capitalized on lean initiatives. It has helped enterprises to standardize and simplify their core business processes as well as eliminate waste or non-value added activities, and thereby bring higher efficiencies. In their lean transformation journey, enterprises are now struggling to additionally improve on automation and achieve further cost reductions. It has eventually put more pressure on their workforce to improve their productivity and responsiveness, and for enterprises to increase collaboration with their customers and suppliers. Enterprise mobility presents an unparalleled opportunity here to bring more agility into the entire value stream in order to augment existing lean transformations.

Mobility has aggressively breached the sphere of the core manufacturing processe, and extended them onto the portable handheld devices. It is now delivering on-the-go critical functions such as shop-floor automation, inventory management, logistics, asset tracking and maintenance, warehouse operations, customers and partner collaboration, and so on. Manufacturers can leverage mobility-enabled solutions to further reduce their costs and become leaner enterprises.


Enterprise Mobility is the extension of existing systems outside the constraints of fixed infrastructure by leveraging advanced wireless and handheld technologies, that ensure 'anytime, anywhere access' to the enterprise applications. The population of mobile workforce is growing at fast pace, primarily driven by technology advances and business necessity. As per IDC study, the global mobile worker population will increase to more than 1.19 billion by 2013, representing nearly 35% of the worldwide workforce, while in US nearly 75% of the workforce will be mobile by 2011.

One of the key drivers for growth in mobility adoption was to provide services, where the customer is, and not where the enterprise is located. Thus, service industry and similar business like banking picked up mobility in early days, and reaped benefits. Even many manufacturing firms also joined the bandwagon of enterprise mobility, however with limited scope of sales and field force automation processes. With the emergence of RFID and barcodes technologies, many manufacturers extended mobility to inventory and warehouse management functions. But, the adoption for mobility for manufacturers was relatively low due to other constraints such as expensive and difficult to maintain devices, limited and low speed network connectivity, security concerns, longer development and deployment effort, and so on. However, the impact of mobility has become all pervasive now, with any manufacturing enterprise that is dithering, incurring a huge opportunity cost.  Today, manufacturers can leverage mobility-enabled solutions in most of their core business processes and operations. The below diagram depicts the processes having high or medium relevance for enterprise mobility solutions for manufacturing firms.

With mobility having a possible positive impact on a large number of manufacturing business processes, it can make the manufacturing value chain much faster to respond. Quick response and adaptability are the basic premises of the Lean manufacturing, which lead to the fulfillment of the end objectives of minimizing waste and maximizing customer value. Lean manufacturing requires a systematic approach to identify and then eliminate non-value added activities across the entire value stream of enterprise through continuous improvements. It eventually creates processes, a series of activities to achieve a desired outcome, that need less of time spent on non-value added activities including overproduction, delays, defects, excess inventory stock/backlog, transport, motion, processing, waiting, setup and preparation time etc. The true lean enterprise focuses its key processes to directly satisfy the customers, and bring improvements to products by eliminating non-value added activities.

The extension of lean transformation with mobility initiative across entire value stream can help magnify the benefits of the lean initiative. Mobility, by virtue of providing anytime, anywhere access to core enterprise processes, helps in reducing the wait time and makes the whole process more amenable to “pull systems” which are inherent to lean initiatives. Manufacturing enterprises can align their top initiatives to become leaner and more agile by adopting mobility. The key imperatives for mobility in manufacturing enterprises have primarily been driven by three critical influencers – Mobile Workforce and Operations, Demanding Customers and Technology Innovations.

Mobile Workforce and Operations - As the workforce travel time and operations throughput is increasing along with need of rapid action, enablement of “on-the-move” workforce and operations automation is becoming critical for enterprises for their Lean initiative to be more effective.

  • Increase Employees Productivity and Convenience
  • Remove Physical Presence Constraints
  • Real-Time Business Decision/Approvals for Managers
  • Improve Critical Data Access on-the-go
  • High Impact Business Transactions
  • Reduce Process Cycle Time

Customers and Partners Collaboration - With customers and partners getting more technology savvy, it has opened up new avenues for the manufacturing enterprises to move the whole process faster by getting as well as providing quicker responses.

  • Improve Customer Engagement
  • Improve Response Time and Quality
  • Improve Customer Satisfaction, Retention and Brand Loyalty
  • Shrink Sales Process Cycle Time
  • Shrink Fulfillment Process Cycle Time


With the rapid adoption of mobility in manufacturing industry, new set of challenges lie ahead of enterprises. In application of mobile computing, the ‘one-shoe-fits-all’ does not work, as there are many difficult choices for enterprises to make. The field of enterprise mobility is evolving and innovating at lightening quick speed. One example of how evolving technology is leading to more choices is the BYOD (Bring-your-own-device) phenomenon. With this an enterprise has to support multiple device platforms such as iPhone/iPad OS (Apple), Android (Google), BlackBerry (RIM), Windows (Microsoft), Symbian (Nokia) and so on. Growing diversification and expansion of devices and platforms has led to a wide array of decisions that the enterprise has to make to lay a solid foundation for its mobility platform.

The range of these considerations and decisions are from overall mobility business strategy (Business case, ROI, Payback period) to mobility technology direction (Middleware solution to be used, Integration approach, and Data security framework) to tactical decisions (Application development strategy, Device platforms to be supported, Client app mode). Enterprises also need to strike the right balance between Mobility cost, architecture complexity, ease of deployment, security, solution flexibility and usability, device feature integration and functionality richness. These considerations can be different for various enterprises based on their mobility appetite, however these are some of the key decisions that an enterprise needs to make before embarking on the mobility journey.

Similar to any other new technology trend, there will a learning curve for enterprises to adopt right strategy and tools for mobility solutions. In those cases enterprise must take a calculated step by step approach towards mobility adoption. They need to carefully define the smaller scope of area as pilot, where they can embark on appropriate mobility platform with minimum risk, and then based on the success and learning from the pilot initiative, they can have the confidence to expand to other areas with more number of use cases.


The dynamic nature of manufacturing industry will continue to pose new challenges for enterprises in future also. However, mobility will become more imperative across this industry. With a kind of breakneck speed and quantum, the consumers and enterprise workforce are embracing mobility; manufacturer cannot afford to delay or avoid the adoption of enterprise mobility.  The later enterprises embark on their journey, the more difficult would it be for them to catch up with competition. Manufacturers must quickly formulate their enterprise mobility strategy, and make the most from the mobility revolution.

Mobility is expected to convert hours to seconds and can reduce or eliminate non-value added time as well as activities from the core processes of manufacturing industry, and thereby brings more agility for enterprises to extend their lean transformation.

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