Parallel Involvement in Our Tablet Initiative

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  4-8-2012 
Warehouse Planning

Parallel involvement in the warehouse

Part C – PLAN
Now, as we begin to plan what we’re going to do about deploying our tablet initiative in our warehouse, let’s keep our parallel involvement process going to mitigate any other potential unintended consequences. This is a key Systems Thinking tool.  A good step at this point is what can be called plan to plan. This means lay out a road map that outlines what needs to be done to have a solid plan. For instance, listing and engaging the various stakeholders in the planning process to ensure their input is both present and relevant. We should also ensure we have the financial and human resources to carryout our project. Well-facilitated meetings with stakeholders that interrelate are a high priority. The stage must be set to exclude personal and political agendas. This is a content issue that can help immensely to avoid time lost due to unnecessary and distracting conflicts. Having absolute clarity on the desired outcomes, “how this impacts the customer” is a really good way to avoid distracting agendas. Everyone can more easily focus on those over-reaching goals.

During this planning phase it would be a good idea for us to conduct some internal and external assessments that will help us flesh out some key strategies and alternatives that will keep us on track to our desired outcomes.  We can preempt some of the pains we will encounter and will have identified some key enablers to a successful project.

Bring Stakeholders Together
Let us then plan on scheduling meetings to bring those stakeholders together. Must they be in person or is everyone comfortable with online meetings? Does it make sense to engage an external facilitator to avoid that person “having a dog in the hunt” and therefore a potentially counterproductive bias? Do we have good in-house facilitators for meetings we can also use? We are looking at making a potential large investment in time, money and changes in how we do things, so we must weigh the value of applying the best inquisitive inquiry techniques and processes as possible at this point.

Now let us explore our list of stakeholders without too much detail. We need the warehouse managers and floor-staff to help us flesh out specs like tablet size, battery life and content of the data to be managed by our tablets. Our IT department has to look at that content too but also platform compatibility such as operating system, possible custom app development and support and IT vendor relationships.

Our IT and tablet vendors should be consulted on the impact on wireless bandwidth requirements, support issues (like that pesky automatic update Waste Management experienced), intended tablet life-cycles (new, improved product releases for example), in-tablet or cloud-based apps and to evaluate their capacity to participate long term.

Our sales and purchasing departments, supply chain managers, HR department and attorneys should all have some input on the content. Sales, purchasing, supply chain and process specialists need to look at customer value issues. HR and our attorneys should address things like what do tablets have a native ability to do that maybe are inappropriate on the job, like using the cameras most tablets have. It’s possible that in a warehouse environment, this could be a real plus. Consider a warehouse worker, taking a picture or video of a pallet of product just unloaded showing potential damage and immediately emailing the images to the buyer in purchasing asking if it’s acceptable or should it be returned. That’s a great example of just-in-time response and empowering the people who have the information to resolve problems with high efficiency.

A counterpoint to that, also cited in Information Week, is that if the tablet users are in a position to abuse the cameras, on some tablets the cameras cannot be disabled! This type of instant sharing of information also needs the input from legal counsel to help establish rules and policies for ensuring security of the data. This includes confidentiality of the data and its misuse, intentional or otherwise of the various native features of the tablets.

Consider Product Life Cycles
Purchasing and asset management should chime in on product life cycles. For example, to determine if the tablets replace other equipment and the financial impact of these issues. The strategic management office can support the effort by coaching the leaders on best practices on planning, perhaps facilitating meetings and helping to integrate the project into the company’s overall strategic plan. The process specialists can contribute to the content and hardware selection by ensuring right-sized tablet s and accessories are selected and related company processes are all aligned.

The HR department should help determine any training required and changes in personnel to support the new tablets. Not just the end users are to be considered here but possibly hardware and software technicians for custom apps and to customize the units. Information Week cites that Avnet disabled a number of features on the iPads they deployed in their warehouses thereby increasing times between charging to up to three days, since the iPads were only using those features necessary for the job. The others, like iTunes, were disabled.  Last on the list but not least are the PR people, who may be able to leverage improvements in customer value as a result of the initiative. Involving all the key stakeholders in the organization and getting their input on this project are part of using a systems thinking approach for this initiative.

But wait, there’s more! What if this tablet initiative provides better real-time inventory data that the sales force can use? Now our warehouse tablet initiative can further improve customer value where we are actually are in contact with the client! So we are compelled to now consider deploying tablets to our sales force. But that’s another project.