High Speed Retail: The Consumer Side of Productivity

I spend a lot of time discussing the demands of supply chain businesses and the technology at work to help them be more productive. Last month, I had the honor of seeing a related article included in The Point of Sale News.  Shortly after the article was in circulation, I began thinking about the efficiencies we appreciate from the consumer side of the retail experience.  I reflected on several of these in a blog post last Winter, but one plays such a role for me, and many other shoppers, throughout the year: Self-Checkout.

Just as we like to get product shipped to us fast from online channels (and who doesn’t love getting a ground shipment in less than 5 days?) we like to shop and not stand in long lines for checkout. I love self-checkout because it’s fast.  And if you’re reading this, you’re likely in the supply chain and know how to work a barcode scanner – making us a breed that is faster than most consumers at the self-checkout line.

Retail checkout lanes get crowded during peak hours.

Consumers flood retail checkout lanes.

It makes sense that self-checkout delivers a faster experience. Often, stores limit self-checkout lanes to small quantities of goods (the “10 items or less” lanes). If you’re buying a large cart of groceries, you’re probably not in the same kind of hurry as someone who rushes in to grab a few quick items.  I spoke with the front-end manager of one of my local grocery stores to ask about the self-checkout experience, and captured a few cool notes.

  • People who use self-checkout are generally more prepared for the transaction. Not just the payment experience, but overall, they’re more comfortable with technology – even to the point of placing items in their shopping cart barcode up for rapid scanning. Confession: I do this every time.
  • Theft (shrinkage) is the biggest challenge to self-checkout (no surprise, here). However, theft prevention is a main reason why self-checkout works on the “10 items or less” line. It’s much easier to spot items in the cart (and count them). If you’ve ever been called out for having more than 10 items when using that line, that’s the reason. It’s not because the two additional items you are ringing up slow everyone down much (though courtesy never goes out of style). Someone is counting what’s in your cart and too many items makes it more difficult to get an accurate count.
  • Space matters. In this particular store, four self-checkout units took the place of two traditional checkout lanes. This setup makes sense not just in the grocery store, but it works for many of the other retail stores I visit all the time, such as my hardware store.

Looking at these points from both the consumer and industry side, it’s really interesting to realize how such tech can be a real win-win for both the consumer and the retailer. Bottom line: businesses move product through the supply chain with an ongoing quest for faster movement of goods, increased productivity from their workers and overall operational efficiency.  We, as consumers, are often looking for the same in that last piece of the supply chain.  Self-checkout is certainly one of the cool technologies making the retail shopping experience a positive one!

Andy Android speaks Mobile Productivity

We’re really excited by the news that Speakeasy is coming to the Android platform! That’s right! Later this summer, mobile computers running the Android platform can add voice to Velocity-based applications.  Voice adds yet another boost to worker productivity, complementing the touch-driven user experience Velocity offers.

Speakeasy Android

Businesses throughout the supply chain have already been recognizing the benefits of voice enablement – from fast implementation to efficiency gains of 50% and more.  As device manufacturers are bringing Android devices to market in a variety of form factors, companies now have a good selection of devices for workers driving forklifts, performing warehouse tasks, and all the way to the retail floor.  Now, as organizations consider these devices, they can bring their apps to Android via Velocity, and also add the power of voice!

If you’re considering devices running Android for your next generation mobile deployment, or to simply expand your use of mobility, here are some considerations for making the leap.  There is significant opportunity to help your workers be more productive with these new devices and the familiarity that this operating system offers them.  From Android’s first rugged embodiment as a tablet, the expansion into more scanning-intensive form factors opens a number of new use cases.  Who thought Andy would find his way onto the manufacturing floor, or into the aisles of your warehouse?  With our announcement, Wavelink is excited to be here, ready when you are, to put the power of voice into your Android mobile deployment!

“We can only tell you that your part is on a truck”

The title statement is a customer satisfaction nightmare. An order visibility nightmare I just lived during a recent home renovation project. If you ever had to convey this message to a customer, or want to be sure you never have to do so, read on…

Picture the scene: a completely gutted master bathroom – right down to the subfloor and wall studs. The new plumbing had just been roughed in and it was determined that before the mud base could be poured into my soon-to-be beautiful tile shower, a drain extender needed to be installed. Details aren’t important, but here’s the bottom line: I needed a $30 piece of cast iron to be installed before the bathroom could proceed.

Order visibility is critical to customer satisfaction.

Order visibility is critical to customer satisfaction.

This project began on January 31st of this year.  The exposed studs and plywood floor remained exposed until late April. Several weeks in between went by without progress, simply because this stock part, which was supposedly located in a distribution facility within 200 miles of my house, couldn’t be delivered.  The supplier couldn’t tell me an ETA. No tracking information could be offered.  Right up to the night before it arrived, all I could get from the supplier was the statement “We can only tell you that your part is on a truck”.

Supply chain visibility is more important than ever, and my experience is one every one of us can appreciate – both from our work in the industry, and as consumers. We never want to be without this visibility. Whether your customers are consumers or businesses, you never want to deliver the message I received in this experience. You want as close to real-time information as you can get – and that’s when mobility pays a big role. When your workers can instantly share order-picking info to your supply chain management systems, you know exactly where each order stands.

Wavelink offers a number of mobile applications that can deliver that instant visibility from data captured by your workers, and work with your existing supply chain management system.  With that kind of operational visibility, you’ll be able to ensure your customers get appropriate delivery information, improve worker productivity, and ensure your customer service team members never have to speak the vague, frustrating words “We can only tell you that your part is on a truck”.

Four Implementation Costs Traditional Voice Application Providers Don’t Want You to Think About

This column was originally posted in March 2015 and has been updated.

We talk about voice enablement with enterprises throughout the supply chain a lot, and here a lot of stories about their prior experiences with traditional voice applications. Their stories are maddening.  Their stories are horrifying.  Their stories are the kind that make anyone with P&L responsibility want to scream.  Too often, these recounted experiences are stories of large up-front investments and then a bunch of unforeseen expenses post-deployment.  The problem is the traditional voice application model, which adds costs in these four common areas:

Speakeasy eliminates these for costs when adding voice to your warehouse mobility solution.

Speakeasy eliminates these four costs when adding voice to your warehouse mobility solution.

Voice-dedicated hardware: Traditional voice apps require a separate, proprietary computer (typically worn on the belt or shoulder of the worker), that houses the speech-to-text and text-to-speech processing.  However, if the barcode scanning mobile computers you’re deploying are fairly current (introduced to market in 2008 or later)), they already have the audio capabilities and computing horsepower to handle the voice processing, so you don’t need to buy proprietary voice hardware.

Middleware or “System Interfaces”: In most warehouse applications, you’re workers are already interfacing to a host system – your WMS, ERP or other supply chain management system.  And, in most of these cases, your workers are using Terminal Emulation on their mobile computers to interact with this host system.  There is no need to wedge additional middleware in between your host system and mobile device client in order to enable voice.  You’re interest is to recognize productivity gains by adding voice to your existing mobile application, so there is no need to buy middleware to enable voice.

Host System Modifications: Recently, I wrote about the problems that can arise when your voice vendor wants to make changes to your host system.  You’ve invested a significant amount of money in your host system, and you don’t need another vendor putting their hands in there (and changing you consulting services fees to do it).  Adding voice to the mobile application should simply pass data back to the host system in the same way that barcode scanned or key-entered data is communicated.  Your host system shouldn’t even need to know which method of data capture was used for a given data field, so adding voice shouldn’t require changes to your host systems.

Post-Deployment Host Modifications: Once your workers are voice-enabled and you’re realizing the productivity gains of voice-enablement, should you discover a process change that will further optimize your workflow, many traditional voice vendors will require that you contract them to contribute to the changes you want to make to your host system. They want to be included because they’ve already made changes to your host system to make their voice application work, so if you want to make any changes, they’ll need to ensure their application isn’t adversely affected.  Deploying voice-enablement shouldn’t require host system modifications, so you shouldn’t have to pay professional services fees to your voice vendor every time you want to make a change to your host system.

If you’ve encountered any of these issues when considering adding voice to your picking or other warehouse workflows, it’s time to look at Speakeasy.  It’s 100% mobile device driven (no proprietary voice hardware or middleware required), and does not require any modifications to your host system (which also eliminates the associated post-deployment costs).  You get the productivity benefits of full-featured voice-enablement, but without all these additional costs that often make traditional voice applications cost prohibitive.  Plus, you can deploy in as little as 30 days, so the productivity gains and cost savings can start adding up quickly.

What’s this Android Browser all about?

At Wavelink, we’re all excited about our most recent release of our Velocity platform.  In case you missed it, with version 1.2, we have extended our Android modernization experience beyond telnet to also include web applications.  But, you may ask, what does this really mean?

Are Android mobile computers on your short-list?

Are Android mobile computers on your short-list?

Think of it this way: If you have been running a web-based application on your Windows Mobile/Windows CE mobile devices, and are considering refreshing your devices, you might be considering new mobile devices that run Android. Then, you have to think about the compatibility of those web applications with a different operating system, browser, and the change from stylus/pen entry to touchscreen navigation.  There’s a huge leap from Windows CE/Mobile 6 to Android, and you only take advantage of the intuitive user experience if your apps are designed for that touchscreen experience.

Just as Velocity helps terminal emulation users avoid the costs, risks and effort of application migration, the platform now offers similar advantages for companies that use web-based apps.  A couple of cool things that make Velocity a great next-generation solution for your mobile web apps:

  • Modernize without changing your host application: Velocity does its magic to bring your mobile web apps to the Android platform, without messing with your host application.
  • Keep workers on task: Just as Wavelink’s Industrial Browser and VelocityCE products have done for the Windows Mobile platform, the Velocity Android Browser gives you the ability to lock down the browser so workers aren’t tempted to exit the app/task their supposed to be using.
  • A path forward for Windows browsers: Whether you’re existing web apps are running through Wavelink’s industrial browsers or Naurtech CETerm, the Velocity platform is designed as the path forward – bringing these web apps to the latest mobile operating systems. This is especially important for users of SAP’s ITSMobile application, where Naurtech CETerm had been the SAP-recommended browser.

We’ve got a lot of cool things going on with Velocity, with even more exciting features on the way. Are you ready to help your workers do more?

Highlights from MODEX 2016 – Powering the Supply Chain

The folks at MHI promised a great show at MODEX this year, and they didn’t disappoint!  The show proved to be a great venue for speaking with existing customers, partners, and prospects, alike.  For our part, Wavelink showcased our Velocity platform – including the just-launched release that extends the platform to include web applications, and of course, our productivity-powering Speakeasy voice enablement solution.

Show attendees were really focused on finding solutions to improve their business – and came prepared to address specific needs.  I’m always MODEX2016highlightsimpressed when visitors come to our booth and begin a conversation with a member of our team by saying something along the lines of “Wavelink! I need to hear more about your Speakeasy product.  Tell me how you make it so easy to implement.”  It was evident that attendees had done research, and coming to the show was an opportunity to take the next step and get hands-on access to solutions and answers to their questions.

We also had the opportunity to catch up with Modern Materials Handing magazine, among others, while at the show. Overall, it was a great place to connect with folks across the industry, and help connect attendees with the best solutions to power their worker productivity.  We’re very much looking forward to Pro-Mat (MODEX’s alternating-year dancing partner) in Chicago next year!

Looking ahead to the MODEX show

MODEX, and its alternating-year sibling ProMAT, are among the shows I look forward to each year.  Anything and everything that makes the supply chain hum is showcased at these events, and the attendees are folks who are seeking out specific solutions. MHI does a great job producing these shows, which are valuable annual events for vendors and attendees alike.

With a bi-annual show, it’s an opportunity to see a bit more evident shift in supply chain challenges and solutions from show-to-show. Here are a couple of themes I expect will be very visible this Modex2016year:

  • Automation: Warehouses and factory floors are 24/7 operations. From robots to drones to other general IoT tech, there will undoubtedly be some interesting concepts on display.
  • Analytics: Sure, big-data was a familiar term in 2014, but the use cases and value of information for making intelligent business decisions has escalated tremendously. KPIs are the prime target for this solution and will have some great visibility in Atlanta next week.
  • Wearables: The aftermath of Google Glass has left us exploring all the possibilities for wearable tech – from the barcode-decoding ring scanners that have served the supply chain for two decades, to glasses for augmented reality. Even the fitness trackers so many of us are wearing come into play.

These themes, and many more, are sure to be on display. If you’re planning to attend or exhibit at MODEX, stop by for a look at our productivity-enhancing solutions. In our booth (#4334), we will be demonstrating Velocity, showing how modernizing the mobile experience is critical to mobile productivity. You can also follow Wavelink (@Wavelink) and me (@rob_destefano) on twitter for live tweets from the show. I look forward to meeting you in Atlanta next week!

Wearables, Voice and Warehouse Productivity

Productivity is a global language, and the challenge to continuously realize gains year-after-year is universal. Over time, I’ve covered several of the myths about voice applications, hidden costs to watch out for, and also how to add voice to mobile solutions you already have in place. Another topic to consider is how to realize the productivity gains you’re targeting – even with all the dynamics in warehouse technology. For this, I’ll share an excerpt from an article published by MHD Supply Chain Solutions in Australia, authored by Wavelink’s own Simon Storey, country manager for Australia and New Zealand:

From the article: Wearables and Voice, MHD Supply Chain Solutions, January/February 2016

“Significant productivity gains

Equipped with a wearable computer and voice capabilities, the productivity improvements for warehouse and DC staff can be seen instantly. Rather than having to pause to refer to a mhd
screen for a pick list and enter commands, details can be communicated to them as they move about the facility.

Termed “motion flow”, such an advance can have a large impact on staff productivity.

For example, staff at 3M Australia’s warehouse in Sydney have been using voice capabilities for more than 12 months. In that time, the staff have embraced the technology and find it helps them improve accuracy and efficiency.

Distribution centre manager for 3M Australia, Daniel La Greca said the high pick rate within his warehouse is extremely complex and labour intensive.

‘Our people love the fact that they can now keep their eyes on the ball by speeding-up the scanning stage,’ he said. ‘I’m confident that the ability for us to do all of our picking functions without setting down and picking up devices will save a significant amount of time, resulting in significant savings and new efficiencies.’”

Check out the full article (registration required), including perspectives on the “perfect storm” of change that warehouse operators are facing, as well as suggestions for how to incorporate these technologies with a layered approach.  How are advances in mobile technology influencing your future plans for maximizing productivity? Email me or contact me on Twitter at @Rob_DeStefano

A Validation of Mobile Productivity

ZebraTechA few weeks ago, we released an update to the on-premise and SaaS versions of our Avalanche product. With three decades of managing mission-critical mobile devices under our belt, one might think the release of a service pack is a bit mundane. However, the recent activity around Avalanche has been quite the opposite.

Along with this release, we took a moment to celebrate the most recent validation we received from a long-time device manufacturer and partner. Although Avalanche has been validated numerous times over the years by Zebra, we’re extremely proud to have received Zebra Enterprise Validation on their latest mobile computers. As customers choose the recently released TC70 series or the brand new TC8000 for their mobility deployments, they can rest assured that managing those devices with Avalanche is more than “just another-third-party enterprise mobility management product”.

Zebra Enterprise Validation “confirms an application works as intended on a particular Zebra Technologies device. Application developers participating in the program work closely with Zebra Technologies’ engineers to validate their application’s functionality under common customer usage scenarios. This thorough evaluation provides assurance that devices will perform as expected when used with the application.

Wavelink is honored to receive such recognition. While our own extensive knowledge of mission critical productivity inspires the products we build, the extensive, independent testing performed by a device manufacturer provides our customers an even higher level of assurance. Enterprises don’t have time for vendor finger-pointing, or products that offer “limited support”. Businesses depend on all of us, as solution providers, to deliver compatibility as part of our partnership. Wavelink delivers on that promise with each of our products, and we’re proud to add this badge of validation as a symbol of our continued commitment to our customers and partners.

Dashboards: Data in your Race for Productivity

Interior of  a 2007 stock car dashboard

Interior of a 2007 stock car dashboard

I’m a fan of auto racing. Stock cars, specifically. I’ve always been fascinated by the adjustments teams make over the course of a single race that can make the difference between a car that is capable of running mid-pack, and one that can be a top-10 car or race leader. Dialing in everything from tire air pressure, to adjustments that can loosen or tighten up handling in the corners, a driver can start a race with a car that feels one way, and by the final few laps, have a car that’s handling a completely different way.

Drivers can adjust the way they drive, but only so much. When the throttle is on the floor, but the car just won’t hold the bottom line coming out of the corners, there’s data that can tell the crew what adjustments need to be made – and that data doesn’t just show up as the team’s position on the track. It comes in the form of telemetry: RPM from the car’s tachometer, fuel consumption stats, driver commentary. Then there’s data that comes from outside the car: air temperature, weather changes (cloud cover alone can impact how a car is handling), oil on the race track, etc. That data comes from a variety of sources, but, when put together, allows pit crews to make intelligent, data-driven decisions that improve the chances of winning the race.

It’s very similar to how dashboards help you make decisions that can improve business processes. You want to be sure your workers are as productive as possible. This information comes from a number of data sources across your business (some from your WMS, more from your IT service desk, sprinkle in some from your mobile device population, etc.). When you pull the information you need from across these sources and look at them together, you get the important data you need to make decisions that optimize your business workflows.

Two more similarities: First, speed. You need to be able to access and interpret the data quickly, so powerful visualizations are important so that you can spot trends and make adjustments quickly – just like a crew chief having the data so that he can instruct the pit crew on what adjustments to make to the race car before it arrives on pit road. Second: shared use. Different team members – on the track, and in your business, need different reports from a common mix of data sources to be able to do their job at their very best.

Want to win the race for productivity gains in your business? Take our Xtraction data reporting solution for a test drive. With so many available data connectors, you’ll soon have all the visibility you need to take the lead!