“Zero tolerance for errors.” “No room for mistakes.” While phrases like these may sound like the rally cries of a bunch of perfectionists – we’ve actually had them as requirements in solutions from some of our clients. True story.
But is this even remotely achievable? Ask a recovering perfectionist, and they might tell you that it isn’t. However, getting as close to that Zero Error goal was the reality we needed to address those clients and the items they needed to track.
There are a variety of reasons for 100% accountability in these critical components. Some were one of a kind. Some were extremely expensive. Some were difficult to replace. Others required extreme security. And still others, should they go missing, would have a serious process impact if they weren’t available when needed. Regardless of the reason, our mission was to assist in maintaining verifiable visibility and rapid escalation should a situation arise.
Automation projects, like most projects, are heavily influenced by speed, expense and quality when determining the final solution capability. The challenge in our client situations was how to accomplish a “zero tolerance for errors” outcome and still maintain a reasonable budget, a fixed timeline to deploy and a minimal level of resource disruption when implemented.
We were able to accomplish these goals by leveraging mobile technology and a mixture of capture approaches (bar codes, RFID, visual). And we maintained minimal touch points for efficient labor utilization.
With mobile technology, we were able to automate tracking activities within their existing environments (regardless of network, wireless, portal structure status). Without big infrastructure changes – we were able to minimize time and expense to launch.
A mobile approach allowed us to capture the information about the item being tracked – while it was in our physical presence (part of the verification). If the environment allowed and provided wireless communications (some did not for security purposes), we could offer real-time status communications. This allowed the quickest and most cost effective deployment option – and the ability to reconfigure its deployment without major effort should their environment change.
“If one is good, more is better!” You may not think of that phrase immediately when you’re considering a new software solution. But if you are going for Zero Errors, that saying may just come to mind when you are thinking of ways that you can work to mitigate risks in processes.
When approaching these requests, we definitely live by the “more is better” philosophy when it comes to data capture. By leveraging different options – bar code, RFID, human feedback – we are armed with a variety of ways to find, capture and verify item status, insure accuracy and eliminate errors. Using just one or two of the capture methods is a start – but it is more time consuming and less reliable. The ideal approach is to leverage RFID to find the item, barcodes to record discrete contact and visual confirmation for accuracy and condition status.
It may seem like there is a lot of redundancy in this approach – but each layer takes the information a little further – and minimizes the risk of error a little more. This level of combined capture enabled us to provide a very high level of certification that the item in question was the right item and update records accordingly. This combination also ensured that when we didn’t have the right item – we were confident of that assessment – and we could quickly initiate and escalate a recovery effort.
The Transition of Data to Information
Data is only useful when it is accessible and trusted for use. Part of mitigating data risk is minimizing the handling and manual input. This became another critical factor for our Zero Error clients – and was included in the automation of the mobile solutions we delivered.
Information captured by the mobile device was streamlined to rely primarily on scans. Where human input was needed, it was made as simple as possible through drop down selections, buttons or list options. Free-form inputs were kept to a minimum. The goal was to make maximum use of their time in front of a selected item.
Once captured, we were able to electronically update ERPs and core business systems – and provide a log of activity by user, by item and by event for both activities and changes in item records. These historical records provided the needed background information for issue escalation and for future planning. We never know when that complete life-cycle-management of a solution is needed – just what it feels like when it’s not there.
Our mobilePLUS item inventory solution was designed and built around many of the requirements that came out of those client projects. It combines the use of flexible mobile technology devices, electronic communications, effective data capture process options and other value added services for an efficient audit event. All of the data gathered produces information for easy and immediate query capability and retrieval. Our goal in building mobilePLUS was to package all of these capabilities into a configurable solution that could be rapidly deployed with ease and little operational disruption.
Zero tolerance for errors is still a tough challenge, but one that we like to take on. If you have a need for a high quality mobile inventory and data capture capability, we should talk.
Wes Haubein is the President of HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile asset inventory management and warehouse solutions. He writes regularly about management, solution integration and technology.