Mobile Apps Spark Business-Process Transformation

Metal manufacturer Worthington Industries modernized shipping and inventory management using mobile apps.
Mastering Mobile Apps: 9 Classes For IT Pros
Mastering Mobile Apps: 9 Classes For IT Pros
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To convince a company to change longstanding business practices, help leaders understand the pain felt by business partners. Or try a grassroots solution and hope acceptance follows.  

At the InformationWeek Elite 100 Conference in Las Vegas Tuesday, Matt Schlabig, CIO of global metal manufacturing company Worthington Industries, and Dan Pachko, enterprise architect, described how their IT organization transformed shipping and inventory management at their very traditional company using mobile apps.

The company received the 2016 InformationWeek Elite 100 Award for Best Use of Mobile for two mobile apps, its Bill of Lading eSignature app and its Mobile Inventory Scanning and Tracking (MIST) app.

"This is a story about people," said Schlabig. "It's a story about a company where the average tenure of our employees is about 27 years."

Worthington manufactures and ships steel, much of it in large coils. Because its industrial processes don't change rapidly, the company tends to be cautious about business process change.

But in 2014, Schlabig knew the company had to try something different. A shop manager told him the company needed to speed up its shipping. When truck drivers arrived to pick up inventory, paperwork was taking more time than moving steel coils onto trucks. The dot matrix printer had to go.

"We knew we had to change because ... our business partners hated this process," said Schlabig.

But rather than seek project approval through traditional channels, the IT team members choose to innovate through a grassroots effort. Using the Appcelerator's Titanium mobile framework, they built an e-signing app prototype in four weeks, tested it for a month, and introduced it to broad acclaim.

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"[At the steel plant], there were people there who had never used a computer or a tablet before," said Schlabig. Yet these workers soon embraced the technology because it sped things up so much.

The eSignature app helped eliminate the need for a shipping office and allowed shipping-office employees to move on to more meaningful work. The MIST app followed a similar trajectory.

The results were dramatic, saving the company 15 minutes per shipment, hours of paper document retrieval and storage time, and the cost of millions of printed pages. The MIST app, meanwhile, shaved five to twenty minutes off the time required to find a steel coil in inventory.

"Empathy is important," said Pachko. "You have to put yourself [in the shoes of the people doing the work]."

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer