5 Minutes With: Tom Leeson - Strategist, OpenText

By Sean Ashcroft
The first in a two-part interview series, in which two experts give insight on the importance of mobile technology in the supply chain

 

Tell us about your yourself and your company

I’m Tom Leeson, Senior Industry Marketing Strategist for the Manufacturing Sector at OpenText. As an engineer by trade, I understand the complex manufacturing environment our customers are working in. 
OpenText enables organisations to gain insight through market leading information management solutions. Our Business Network Cloud solution serves 21 of Gartner’s ‘Supply Chain Top 25’ for 2020, and four of five Gartner ‘Supply Chain Masters’: Apple, Unilever, P&G and Amazon. 

What are the benefits of mobile tech in the supply chain?

Mobile technology has played a key role in supply chain management, particularly in the warehouse, for decades. But today’s mobile devices and systems - such as barcode scanners, smartphones, wearables, tablets and rugged laptops - are much more advanced. They incorporate innovations such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The benefit of using mobile technology is that you have better visibility in the supply chain. Estimates suggest companies are losing almost £17bn billion each year in the UK alone from lost assets. 
Yet many manufacturers are still relying on manual, antiquated spreadsheet-based processes to track their inventory of assets. IoT-based asset tracking can lower costs and risk while simultaneously boosting performance and productivity.

Why should supply chains adopt mobile tech?

Our research with IDC found that 60% of firms expect their business to be disrupted by competitors with more resilient supply chains by the end of 2021. So to put it simply, businesses in the supply chain need to adopt mobile technology in order to retain that elusive competitive advantage. 
We’ve seen a ‘black swan’ event, with the Covid-19 pandemic being the catalyst for companies to revisit their global supply chain strategy and accelerate the adoption of digital supply network models and capabilities. This should continue into the long term as businesses strive to be more flexible and adaptable, so they are ready for whatever comes next. 

What are the key innovations in mobile tech?

 The most important innovation is IoT-enabled asset and shipment tracking. This enables every physical object to be quickly converted to an IoT device, continually gathering digital intelligence on the asset in ways that weren’t possible before. The IoT device collects asset data and shares it – often in real time – with people and automated systems to perform actions based on the data. 
However, it’s not always straightforward to deliver an effective digital asset tracking system. Research suggests that nearly three quarters of all IoT projects fail. In fact, when examining the causes of failure, McKinsey found that integrating IoT solutions into existing workflows and managing data were the top two reasons. 
To be successful, using mobile technology asset and shipment tracking has to involve more than the capture and communication of IoT data. It must include the ability to bring different formats of IoT data together securely and integrate it with other information and context related to that asset. That’s why taking a ‘digital twin’ approach is the most beneficial as it gives that single point of truth for the entire asset, at the right time, in the right context. It’s the only way to deliver end-to-end visibility into the asset and its connection with other related assets. This is why companies are increasingly adopting innovations like our Asset Intelligence solution for Manufacturing, to get greater value from their mobile technology.
Turning to cloud technology, innovations in this area are also crucial because it underpins your ability to connect the data together more easily. If all your mobile technology data is being collated in the cloud, you can easily combine it with insights from other parts of your organisation.

How has mobile tech helped supply chain in the pandemic?

The pandemic painfully demonstrated the vulnerabilities of global supply chains. According to the Institute of Supply Management, 75% of manufacturing companies that source from China experienced disruptions. Dun & Bradstreet calculated that 51,000 companies around the world had one or more direct suppliers in Wuhan, with at least 5 million companies having one or more tier-two suppliers in the Wuhan region.
Mobile technology has helped supply chains remain operational because, together with the cloud, it created a common environment for people to support the business remotely. Whilst offices and factories were closed, and systems on the premises unattended, with information available in the cloud it was more accessible and in a collaborative environment. This allowed for business leaders to still have the right information they needed to make critical decisions as their business was forced to adapt quickly.

Will mobile tech continue to rise?

Yes, at least until there is a basic level of adoption across the majority of businesses. Then it might plateau. But most likely at this point there will be more technological improvements and innovations to build on this. 
Those companies who work with leading technology partners will then have the advantage of being an early adopter of the next generation of mobile technology. 

How can supply chains ensure their mobile tech is secure? 

The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline was yet another wake-up call for critical infrastructure and supply chains to rethink their approach for securing operations. This was not just a one off incident either; in the past twelve months, ransomware has disrupted operations for many supply chain organisations, including a European steel manufacturer, a US natural gas supplying facility, a US water treatment facility, a Japanese automotive manufacturer, an Australian logistics company, and a South American energy-distribution company. 
The increasing adoption of mobile technology leads to a plethora of devices which need to be secured, as they could be the new entry points for an attack on your wider network. Businesses should be demanding a platform that can deliver secure device management that is identity-centric, and verifies each device and associated data stream to enable clear and governable integration to enterprise applications, providing protected and resilient operations.
 

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