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What kinds of challenges do mobile ERP technologies pose?

In this time of ubiquitous smartphones and the use of BYOD, it would seem that mobile ERP applications would be widespread in manufacturing. Here's why they're not.

You would be hard-pressed to find an employee or manager in any manufacturing plant who doesn't own and use a smartphone for his personal activities. It would likewise be hard to find an ERP system that does not provide access to at least some of its production data and other information through a smartphone app or mobile-compatible website display. So, it would seem logical that mobile ERP technologies in the plant would be widespread as a means of offering data access.

But that isn't the case -- at least not yet.

There are barriers to the implementation of any new technology, and that's certainly true when it comes to the use of mobile ERP technologies in the plant. Let's look at the challenges and try to understand where we are today.

The fact that nearly everyone already has a perfectly serviceable device (i.e, smartphone) has led to a strong trend toward a bring your own device, or BYOD, policy in many companies. It's certainly a benefit for the company if employees are willing to pay for their technology themselves, and a good part of the learning curve disappears when they are already using something for personal reasons. The "if you like your phone, you can keep your phone" mind-set is appealing to both users and many in the company.

But there are plenty of IT people who are not so happy about the use of personal devices. Top concerns include: What about security? What about compatibility across the two main environments -- iOS and Android -- and the many variations of Android from all the phone manufacturers? And what about the updates to those operating systems that are delivered at the convenience of the supplier, without advance notice and without any opportunity to test compatibility and security before it is distributed?

The alternative is to restrict company information access to company-supplied devices. That increases the cost to the company, of course, and may bring the learning curve back into play. Employees may have to learn to use the new device if it's not the same as their personal smartphone. Besides, as Hillary Clinton would tell you, it's inconvenient to have to carry two phones -- one for personal and one for business.

Apps and appropriate Web access to ERP data that is optimized for smartphones are still rather limited at this time. But as these programs mature and more information is made available, the use of smartphones for in-plant data access will undoubtedly grow. The barriers to widespread use of mobile ERP technologies are falling and will continue to fall, probably faster than many are expecting, given the way technology cycles are continuing to accelerate.

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