Upwardly Mobile

World events have slammed us so hard in recent years that we no longer have the time or resources to indulge in Big Ideas. But in a buyers’ guide, with its often intimidating lists of categories and resources, a Big Idea would not be out of place — it can provide a framework to guide practical decisions. Here are some futuristic concepts that you might find useful to keep in mind before you plunk down money for equipment or software:

Virtual reality

Not all of us might want to live in the uneasy, shape-shifting world of The Matrix, but brace yourself — it’s coming. A Forrester Research Inc. report titled “The Mobile Mind” envisions a fictitious employee, Carol Weber, thus beginning her workday in the year 2015: “Carol is connected to the Internet with access to calls, e-mail, data, and video, but she no longer uses a conventional phone or computer. Her wardrobe today includes a wearable computer system. Her earrings serve as a receiver for a communications device embedded in her clothing. Her necklace serves as a microphone, and her ring blinks when a call is coming in.” Should you be shopping for wearable designer computers? Not quite yet, but keep your eyes peeled for portable, mobile, multipurpose applications.

Rise of the machines

No, we don’t mean giant robots clunking through the warehouse. According to the newsletter SupplyChainDigest, one important trend to monitor is what’s known as “lights-out” warehousing, or the use of advanced material handling technologies to reduce the need for human operators. Already popular in Europe, this strategy is slowly gaining ground in some U.S. operations. In practical terms, it means investing in laser-guided vehicles, warehouse automation control systems, RFID-enabled devices, and the like; your ultimate goal is to run a fully automated, high-volume, high-density facility.

Integrated systems

You’re sick of the word “integration,” and so are we. But this isn’t the integration with legacy systems that everyone’s been going on about for years. The “new” integration brings together previously incompatible front- and back-office systems to provide a unified view of the business, from accounting to human resources to operations. The technology is still emerging, but it’s an intriguing concept that’s worth checking out.

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