Wholesale Distribution in the Moment

As I make my way around the U.S. talking with wholesale distributors about their business challenges, and, the opportunities to leverage enterprise technology to solve them, the discussion often evolves to extending the enterprise. By extending, I mean rendering the enterprise business systems onto a mobile device e.g. iPad or a smart phone. Instead of discussing just ERP (enterprise resource planning) we are now kicking around a new acronym, MEAP, or mobile enterprise application platform. Clearly, mobility is on the minds of many executives and line of business managers within the wholesale distribution industry.

My mobility discussions with these distributors seem to fall into one of two mobility categories. They are either interested in solving a specific tactical business issue with a Mobility Initiative, or they are interested in a more strategic way of driving incremental revenue and increasing productivity with Mobility Transformation.

Initiative vs. Transformation

The Initiative topic is often very different from the Transformation discussion. Initiatives are currently opportunity-focused and centered on mobility project task lists. Transformations are anticipating mobility use cases and are focused solely on business value derived from a mobility platform. Initiatives are centered on standard corporate devices and replicating back office applications on them. Transformations are looking at “bring your own device” strategies and are looking for ways to deliver tailored, role-based mobile applications. These Transformation applications are being designed with intuitive interaction as a priority and a relevant information-only focus. The Initiatives tend to have the user interface as an afterthought, with pounds of data being pushed to meet multiple requirements.

As I think about these two very different schools of mobility thought, I have a very simplistic but compiling point of view. Mobility Initiatives seem to be limited by a transitional application development approach on mobile point solutions, where Mobility Transformations seem to focus on a rapid mobile application library development approach on proven mobile enterprise application platforms.

Either way, the reasons for deploying mobile applications on MEAP are common across nearly all the distributors I have met with. They are all trying to increase sales revenue by extending in-the-moment sales order creation via customer specific catalog template, increase field sales productivity with fast and effective sales call preparation applications, and increase responsiveness by speeding access and resolution to customer issues, including order and price changes. Mobility value has seems to have put distributors into one of three categories. Almost one-third of distributors are actively implementing or expanding their mobile applications, another third are planning mobile applications, with the final third being late adopters.

Wholesale distributors were once deemed enterprise technology laggards but the rapid acceptance of mobility across the industry will soon change this inaccurate perception.

Paul Pretko is the lead industry principal for Wholesale Distribution at SAP America.  He is a wholesale distribution technology and operations leader with over twenty five years of comprehensive experience in distribution and logistics environments, executing operational improvement strategies through technology. He focuses on enabling efficient distributor operations with SAP for Wholesale Distribution solutions.