FAQ: Getting the most out of mobile ERP

In this FAQ, learn the basics of mobile ERP systems and how mobile devices can enhance a manufacturing organization.

What makes an ERP system "mobile"?

Mobile ERP -- and mobile computing in general -- refers to a business application that is available on common mobile devices, namely smartphones, tablets and specialized handheld computers. With mobile devices now one of the hottest consumer technologies on the market, a plethora of models and operating systems are available, from iPhone and iPad to Android, BlackBerry and Windows-based devices.

The biggest selling point for mobile ERP is the freedom it can provide business users. When manufacturing data is no longer constricted to PCs within the four walls of an organization, users can work from any location with a wireless connection. In a world where the average supply chain is a global supply chain, this sort of flexibility is a major business advantage.

How do smartphones and tablets fit into a manufacturing environment?

Mobile computing devices and apps have shown themselves to be useful in nearly every step of the manufacturing process. On the shop floor, employees can use smartphones and ruggedized specialty mobile computers to quickly locate and scan materials, parts and finished products throughout the assembly lines, providing real-time data on an order's progress. In the warehouse, workers use mobile devices to process and organize orders, preparing them for shipment. And on the logistics side of things, truck drivers can use their mobile devices to check in with headquarters on their progress, confirm delivery times and quickly report any problems on the road.

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The business use cases of mobile devices are not limited to manufacturing and shipping. Sales reps can also use mobile ERP to share statistics and product data with potential customers during site visits. Mobile can even provide real-time visibility from the top, allowing CEOs, presidents and VPs to keep a close eye on the health of their companies by signing into the ERP system from just about anywhere.

I keep hearing about BYOD policies -- what does that mean?

BYOD refers to the practice of bring your own device. Basically, companies that opt for a BYOD approach do not issue standard mobile devices to their employees, though some provide financial support to employees looking to purchase devices. In general, BYOD involves employees using their personal mobile devices within the workplace.

The obvious benefit of BYOD is cost savings. Mobile devices are cheaper than they used to be, but are still a significant investment. Granting employees access to corporate programs and data on the devices they already own is a low-budget project. However, BYOD is also a use-at-your-own-risk proposition, and the lack of standardization can cause management nightmares for IT departments as they scramble to support multiple hardware platforms and operating systems.

Then there are the security risks that come along with allowing users to integrate their personal devices with private company data. Experts agree that a strong mobile device management plan needs to be in place before BYOD can become a smart business move. Using corporate application stores is another strategy for ensuring that users are accessing preapproved, secure and uniform programs, which makes the work of IT that much easier.

In general, how secure is mobile ERP?

Like any business technology, mobile ERP can be as secure as IT wants to make it. While mobile computing makes it possible for anyone in the organization to access the ERP system from any location, it probably isn't necessary for every employee to have such access. Restricting mobile privileges to essential users makes the devices easier to track and manage. Pre-mobile implementation training is also important; requiring employees to familiarize themselves with the dos and don'ts of corporate mobile computing lessens the chances of major security problems down the road. Make sure the training is clear not to just the younger, tech-savvy Millennial users, but to all employees that have access to the devices. And as with any new technology, manufacturers must ensure that their IT infrastructure is prepared to handle the day-to-day maintenance involved in managing a mobile ERP system.

One of the biggest security concerns about mobile computing is how safe sensitive data -- information such as trade secrets, product patents and manufacturing financials -- is when accessible on devices that could quite literally fall into the wrong hands. Frequently changing mobile ERP passwords is an obvious must. Beyond that, organizations should have a plan in place in case a device is compromised or stolen, such as having the ability to track lost devices via Global Positioning System and, if necessary, remotely wipe the devices clean. To sum up mobile security: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Follow SearchManufacturingERP on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

This was first published in December 2013

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