In an interview with Computerworld Malaysia, Bruce Stubbs, director of industry marketing for technology solutions design and manufacturing giant Honeywell, talks about the latest mobile enterprise developments and adoption trends across different Malaysian industry sectors.
Founded 1885, now a Fortune 100 company, US-headquartered Honeywell operates across different industry sectors offering technology solutions with more than 127,000 employees worldwide, including more than 22,000 engineers and scientists.
Photo - Bruce Stubbs, Director, Industry Marketing, Honeywell Scanning & Mobility
Could you please start by outlining some of the latest developments in enterprise mobile computing across Malaysia's industries?
While in the past it was technology and new products driving change in enterprise, today it is the cultural evolution of the consumer that shapes the industry. The 'get it now' society we live in is now calling for immediate access to goods and services.
As a result Malaysian businesses like transportation and distribution organisations have to find ways of coping with the increased movement of single goods. Malaysian transportation businesses, who traditionally have delivered in bulk to only retail stores, are now delivering to two channels - e-Commerce and store orders. Additionally, the e-Commerce orders need to move much more quickly than the traditional store delivery model is designed for.
In order to deal with the pressures caused by e-Commerce, Malaysian transportation and delivery businesses along with manufacturers and retailers themselves will need to look at technologies that are geared to cope with the increasing number of orders and speed of delivery.
Importantly for Malaysian food producers and distributors, technology is also required to aid compliance with a rising number of food safety and traceability regulations, such as country of origin labelling, both on a domestic and international level. Technologies that have been found to increase productivity and efficiency, as well as support the tracking and tracing of products from harvest or production, right through to retail outlets, are becoming increasing standard in enterprise.
For instance we are seeing a shift away from 1D laser barcodes, to 2D barcodes, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Direct Part Marking (DPM) and Quick Response (QR) codes, due to their ability to offer much more detailed traceability of an individual product or part throughout the supply chain. This level of traceability allows retailers to quickly respond to a recall and be able to pull the affected products only, rather than having to recall and destroy whole product lines as a precautionary measure.
This saves millions of dollars' worth of unnecessary product waste and brand damage for producers, manufacturers and retailers.
In order to ensure productivity of mobile workers throughout a full shift, there is also a big emphasis on developing mobile computers that offer a battery life that allows for 14 or more hours of continuous work.
Mobile computers are also now capable of performing a range of imaging tasks, such as document imaging, image capture and address verification, to help logistics workers in the delivery process. This ensures that deliveries arrive at the right address on time and that workers are able to document proof of delivery.
How would you describe the uptake of these types of devices as well as talk about some of the barriers to adoption in Malaysia?
Currently, Malaysian businesses' technology choices are largely based on price and as such investments are more often made in price conscious options such as 1D scanners, rather than 2D. They are however seeing that there are long-term benefits when investing in rugged mobile computers that will stand the test of time and withstand the spills, drops and constant use in the harsh environment of a warehouse.
The biggest single challenge for Malaysian businesses in adapting to new technologies and new processes within their operations is a changing of mind-set.
Because of the historical availability of attractive labour rates, in the past Malaysia has not typically been an early adopter of technology. Instead local businesses were historically able to apply people to the problem when they needed more things done, versus trying to do it more efficiently with the number of people they already had.
The issue with this approach in a global, e-Commerce world, is that adding more people to handle problems doesn't increase either productivity or the accuracy. In fact more people can lead to greater opportunities for human error and impact negatively on the supply chain process overall.
However, total cost of ownership is always an important factor for Malaysian businesses looking to invest in technology. This makes working with a specialist technology partner who can identify equipment savings over the lifetime of a device critical.
For instance, deploying purpose built devices with faster processors and battery management capabilities that are built for a specific industry is typically much more cost effective in the long term and provides lower cost of ownership over the life of the device.
Honeywell Scanning & Mobility has also specifically designed price conscious devices for the Asia region, including the CK3R Mobile Computer, which offers full-shift power and ruggedness suited to a warehouse environment at a competitive price.
What sort of operational improvements can mobile computers bring to Malaysian businesses at this time?
The transformation in the retail sector to accommodate for the rising popularity of e-Commerce has posed a number of major challenges and changes for Malaysian businesses.
Take for instance distribution centres, who in the past only had to pick bulk batches for delivery to a set number of retail stores on a weekly basis, that are now having to adapt to picking small one or two item orders for thousands of individual consumers on a daily basis. Picking and delivery turn-around has also been drastically cut due to e-Commerce and increasing demands from consumers around the immediacy of deliveries. Where once they competed to deliver orders within a 24 hour period, retailers are now being pushed to deliver same day or in a matter of hours.
This means that there is currently extreme pressure being placed on a business' existing resources (which weren't designed for the omni-channel) to deliver on the demands of e-Commerce. As a result, distribution centres are struggling to ship single piece orders on time and transportation and distribution operators don't have the level of resources on the ground (trucks, vans and air freight) to deliver these orders in the time expected by consumers.
Given the increased velocity and demand for goods driven by the growing e-commerce business in APAC, it is only those Malaysian companies with automated mobile technologies that will be able to meet the challenges of today's e-Commerce supply chain.
Businesses in Asia can no longer solve supply chain issues by simply adding more people to the problem; they need to have technologies in place to ensure that the right goods get delivered to the right customer at the right time.
Let's talk about an industrial or warehouse setting: what would be the best practice from a technology perspective?
Technologies of particular importance in supply chain operations these days include the full suite of AIDC solutions like mobile computing (handheld and vehicle mount), scanning, Printing/media, RFID and newer technologies that provide hands free operational advantages.
Key technologies like voice technologies and wearable devices provide a lot of opportunities throughout the enterprise to increase efficiency and reduce labour costs via small parts picking, large package handling, sortation or truck loading - basically anytime two hands are required.
Honeywell works with businesses in Malaysia and around the globe to analyse and transform their business processes so they can make full use of their mobile workers. Honeywell provides a complete suite of hardware, software and services that arm mobile workers with the information they need to make better decisions, improve operational efficiency and increase customer satisfaction. This also means businesses can easily combine a number of solutions to form the best solution possible.
Speaking of a warehouse setting, how do the technologies used in Malaysian fulfilment centres compare with other parts of the world?
At present Malaysian fulfilment centres tend to be more manual and paper-based compared to other regions in the world. Warehouses that still rely on paper picking face a high level of errors in terms of mislabelling or loading the incorrect goods for shipping.
However, as with many of our customers, Malaysian businesses will soon look to automate all processes within their supply chain operations. This is because removing paper processes is adding higher levels of accuracy and productivity and providing insights into operational processes through real time data that is allowing our clients to make better and faster decisions.
Being able to make decisions that enhance a facility's performance across the board is attractive to businesses who are currently operating in an increasingly competitive and global supply chain environment.
What other observations do you have about Malaysian businesses in the supply chain industry?
Malaysian businesses who operate in the supply chain industry that invest in automated data capture solutions to drive maximum productivity, accuracy and traceability will be best positioned to provide cost effective fulfilment services. Improving performance will be vital in helping Malaysian businesses maintain existing customers and open up new international channels to market, particularly in the high growth Asia region.
In particular, logistics providers across the Asia-Pacific region have many opportunities to gain from their local region. Growth rates of 3PL providers are expected to be highest in Asia-Pacific at approximately 16 percent, followed by North America with about 11 percent and Europe with approximately eight percent. However, there are factors that Malaysian logistics providers need to be aware of so they can ensure they are equipped to take advantage of the growth in logistics.
Logistics providers who are able to offer comprehensive traceability, capable of meeting local and international standards with technologies that facilitate real-time information such as 2D barcodes and smart labelling or RFID, will prove most attractive to retailers.
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