Wavelink Blog

Author: Robert DeStefano

What will Mobile Productivity Deliver in 2016?

Drone(own)Drones, M&A activity, a crash in oil prices – these topics and more helped shape 2015 for all of us who work throughout the supply chain. There are always unexpected events that force change in our markets, and certainly the past year hasn’t disappointed. So, as we bid adieu to 2015, it’s time to set our sights on what we might expect in 2016.

  • Device manufacturers set the stage for an Android/Windows decision: Several manufacturers of rugged mobile computers are introducing devices with some skus that run Windows and others that run Android. Android’s share has been growing in our space. The question is: whether a Windows 10 release will slow the momentum, and make some who have been waiting to upgrade, feel confident doing so.
  • Wider deployment of mobility in consumer-facing use cases: It’s been discussed for years, but the choice of larger-screen mobile devices available for store associates to carry on the showroom floor has reached critical mass. Now is the time when retailers will be looking at apps like guided selling and mobile POS to provide an enhanced customer experience.
  • The Internet of Things will get more vertical: Both literally and figuratively. We’ve seen a few examples of IoT in our world – things like robotic warehouse shelving, but as the hype continues, we’ll see some interesting concepts introduced in the coming year. Drones will be part of this. Whether or not you agree, they are part of the IoT. The concepts and use cases for these devices are getting attention.

There are also the numerous surprises that will come during 2016, and we’re looking forward to evaluating these alongside you! What predictions do you have for the mobile productivity space in 2016? Email me with your thoughts and/or wish list for the upcoming year.

Finally, all of us at Wavelink that you for trusting us as your partner for mobile productivity. We wish you all the best for a healthy, happy, and productive 2016!

How to save millions and get years of project cycles back with Velocity

VelocityScreenshot(1)I thought that title might get your attention, but we’ve literally had conversations with companies over the past few months that have done just that!

As businesses look to refresh some of their mobile technology, they’re faced with the challenge of putting far more advanced mobile devices (rugged or consumer) in the hands of workers, but then taking some of the benefit of these devices away by placing previous generation mobile clients on these devices. Though proven technology, these text-heavy mobile clients are not designed for these new mobile computers.

We’ve been speaking to a number of businesses about this over the last few years, and a common situation seems to repeat itself. I’ll summarize one example below:

A 3rd-party logistics provider was acquiring a new generation of mobile devices, replacing legacy Windows CE-based mobile computers (typical for many). They had been running Telnet, but were looking at an app re-write that would update the experience and bring some consistency to their WMS and other supply chain management systems’ mobile interface. However, as they got through scoping their application re-writes, they came to the realization that it would be five years before all the systems would be updated, and well north of $15 million.

App migration is a serious challenge. It’s loaded with risk – you’re modifying or replacing systems that are essentially the backbone of your business. Migration also takes huge amounts of effort, and significant investments (as summarized in the situation above). In many cases, your existing host applications work quite well and it’s only an improved mobile interface you’ll need to get the most out of today’s powerful mobile devices.

That’s exactly the challenge Velocity was designed to solve. Your goal is to maximize the user productivity on the latest mobile hardware. You’re aiming for faster app navigation, an intuitive user interface – a modernized experience through which workers can accomplish tasks. You’re providing workers with a mobile application that improves data accuracy. Best of all, you can deliver this modernized experience without modifying the host applications you’ve made significant investments to optimize.

If you’re heading to NRF2016 in January, stop by our booth #1310 for a Velocity demonstration. I’ll be there, and will be happy to discuss enterprise mobility with you! You’ll also find Velocity in the Zebra Technologies booth #1603 under their All-Touch TE brand.

Five retail tech experiences I’m thankful for!

HolidayShopping(own)“Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday”, the “Holiday Shopping Season” is upon us. Starting just before the American Thanksgiving holiday last week, I began reflecting on all the wonderful tech that has made shopping much more enjoyable and an easier task to accomplish. I’m not talking about the online versus in-store experience, but the various experiences I’ve enjoyed, and make it a point to take advantage of as a consumer. Here are a few of my favorites and my personal suggestions to help you enjoy them, too:

  • In-store pickup: Sometimes, being in a crowded mall during this time of year can suck all the good will out of a shopper. Sometimes, it’s so helpful (and often faster) to be able to pick out a few pre-determined gifts online, pay for them, and then go right to the pick-up area in their brick-and-mortar store. This will save you significant time on trips where you want to grab-and-go. Browsing the store on these same trips undermines the benefit.
  • Digital loyalty cards: I carry one wallet, which provides limited space for loyalty cards. I carry one iPhone, but within a single app I can hold all my loyalty card info in digital form – including barcoded loyalty numbers. Bonus points for retailers whose employees use 2D imagers and can scan those loyalty barcodes right from my phone’s screen (faster still, compared to the retail associate having to key in my loyalty number). Bottom line: whether buying coffee, groceries, or you next electronic gadget, the savings and rewards these cards offer may be worth sharing some shopping habit data with these establishments, which I’ve written about on our LANDESK blog.
  • Self-checkout: I’m like the legendary wild-west gunslinger Doc Holliday when it comes to scanning my own items at checkout. Give me a retail barcode scanner and I can capture every barcode on every ingredient of our Christmas dinner menu in a matter of seconds – including coupons. It’s not a contest against the other checkout lines. It’s a matter of continuous improvement of my own barcode scanning skills. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked for several years at firms that produce these devices, so testing scanner aggressiveness is kind of a habit). For the fastest scanner-slinging experience, make more frequent trips that include fewer items. Then, place items in your shopping cart with the UPC barcode facing up. You won’t have to touch the items – just point the scanner’s laser line across the barcodes.
  • Personalized offers and coupons: I like coupons for stuff I typically buy. Getting an email, in-app offer, or (dare I say it) direct mail coupon offer that saves me money on something I buy frequently will likely get me into a store – especially during this busy time of year. The tech may not be the coupon itself, but the analytics that help the retailer recognize my buying habits. However, if you really want to impress me with the impulse buy technology – send me a digital offer (in-app or via email) that allows me to buy now and you’ll ship it free, fast. If the product is something you use regularly, or that has a reasonable shelf life (and you have space to store it), give in to the impulse buy!
  • QR coded retail tags: Sometimes I want to know more about the product while I’m in the store, but at this time of year, no amount of retail staff can help everyone. And sometimes, I want to research on my own, anyway. QR codes on shelf tags that connect me to your online product page so I can look at product specifications, food ingredients, or even store inventory (where necessary)are a great resource. There are plenty of QR code reader apps out there, so if you have the opportunity to interact with these funky-looking barcodes, you’ll be surprised to find what information they can connect you to – even incentives if you buy immediately (read: personalized coupons).

Here’s to a great season of giving! I’m thankful to all the people working throughout the supply chain, from manufacturers through distribution and into the retail stores or delivering packages to my door: Thank you!

Add Voice to What You Already Have!

Picking2

Picking2When warehouse managers start to explore voice enabling tasks, they often start with an inflated project scope. Often times, it’s past research or experiences in previous careers that set this notion. Other times, it’s because they have heard the horror stories from their peers – stories of voice application vendors who have entrenched themselves deep in the Warehouse Management System (WMS) in an attempt to make the two inseparable.  And the project expands from there.  Let’s take a look at the three components you may already have in place and how you can add voice to these existing systems to improve productivity.

Your Host System: The truth is, you can add voice to your warehouse operations without touching your WMS! Here’s the thing: traditional voice apps are designed with a requirement for some host interface software. It’s a relic from an earlier time, when mobile devices couldn’t handle all the voice processing.  However, today’s devices can convert voice-entered data into the same data stream as data captured via barcode scan or keyed entry. Your WMS doesn’t know (nor care) which data was entered via voice. For more on this, check out my previous blog: Four Implementation Costs Traditional Voice App Providers Don’t Want You to Think About

Your Mobile App: So, it’s established that you can add voice and maintain your existing WMS.  Now, for the mobile application: if you’ve already had rugged mobile devices deployed in your warehouse, you’ve probably been using a thin-client app such as Terminal Emulation, or a browser interface to your host system. If you’ve got that in place, there is no need to disrupt what’s been working! You can add voice to that existing application and save significant time and money by voice-enabling that existing application.

Your mobile computers: You might be looking to add voice as part of a refresh of your mobile computers, and if so, that’s going to ensure the added productivity benefits that today’s rugged mobile devices can offer. However, even if you’re aiming to get a few more years out of an existing mobile deployment, you’re in good share. I mentioned above how today’s devices can turn voice-entered data into the same data streams that feed your host system with barcoded or keyed entries. That’s possible because mobile devices released to the market over the past 7-8 years have the processing power to perform all the voice processing right on the device. So, if your current mobile computers are at least as recent as this, you can add voice today, without having to make an investment in new devices.

If you haven’t had a demo of Speakeasy, you haven’t seen how simple it can be to add voice to your existing systems. Request a trial here, and we’ll help you assess your current system readiness and get you started toward greater productivity with voice.

Before wearables were “cool”

Wearable tech is all the fashion these days. Apple Watches, Google Glass, as well as Fitbits and other health trackers, – are all new interpretations of technology that’s been with us for the last few decades. Like so many technologies that came before – internet, email, cellular communication systems—they all started in vertical use cases before broadening into the consumer market.

What’s great about this process is that it forces technologies to mature in environments that are even more demanding than consumer use cases. If a concept fails in intense markets like military, aerospace or logistics, they aren’t ready for “prime time” consumer use.  Likewise, once a technology is proven in these markets, it’s more than ready for you and me.

Take for example the wearable scanning system. If you’re in the logistics field, you might recognize this term and the mobile computers bearing this name (if not, this image of the Symbol WSS1040 might trigger memories).WSS-1040

Consider the parallels: this is basically a computer strapped to your wrist that can capture and present data, and can wirelessly synchronize to software located elsewhere. Sound familiar? This product (ca. 1997) looks hokey by today’s consumer wearables standards and rightfully so. It was purpose-built for hands-free barcode scanning and data entry, not as a fashion statement. However, the extensive research done for devices like this – to determine ergonomic balance (how comfortable can it be?), user fatigue (how heavy can it be?), display readability, operating system and host software interactions, and more, all contributed to the knowledge base that helped design today’s wearable consumer tech (not to mention several generations of product evolution on the wearable scanner you see here).

Another fun fact: as you think about the role today’s wearables will play in tomorrow’s supply chain, only Wavelink has been managing these wearables since way before wearables were “cool.”  Yes, we offered enterprise mobility management for this device with Avalanche.

There are a lot of ideas out there for how wearable computing will enter the enterprise. The good news is, if it drives workforce productivity, you can bet we’ll be ready for it! Where do you hope to see more wearable computing in your business? Comment below or email me your use case ideas: robert.destefano@wavelink.com

Touch the Future of Mobile Productivity With Velocity

VelocityScreenshot(1)

Last week, we announced a brand new product designed to help your workforce accomplish more tasks during their shifts. Velocity modernizes the mobile interface of your existing host application (such as your WMS or ERP system) so that it is easy to navigate on today’s touchscreen mobile computers. So, when we say Velocity helps your workforce get more done, what do we mean?

What we’re talking about is the speed that your workers can navigate through a task: entering data, progressing through screens, even selecting the next task assignment. Recently, I wrote about what’s making touchscreen devices more relevant in more rugged use cases. Taking advantage of the multi-touch displays on these devices (and the supporting operating systems, of course), Velocity gives the worker a mobile interface that lets them tap and swipe across menus in their host application, rather than have to enter multiple keys to accomplish the same task on previous generation devices. Accelerating them through their tasks means enabling them to accomplish more tasks during each shift.

For example: if I’ve been using Terminal Emulation for my existing mobile interface to my WMS, I might need to press [Function], [F5], [Enter] to choose my task. That key entry works fine on my existing mobile computers that have physical keyboards. However, moving to a touchscreen mobile computer, this can be improved upon with a simple tap on the field on a menu screen – allowing me what used to take even 2-3 seconds into a sub-second selection.

VelocityScreenshot

Text based interface

VelocityScreenshot(1)

Same app screen modernized with Velocity

Now, consider the ability to simplify data entry throughout a task – shaving 2-3 seconds off every selection in the workflow, and multiplying that by the number of tasks a worker can accomplish during his/her shift. Finally, multiply that by the number of workers you have. See how a modernized user interface with Velocity can squeeze additional productivity out of your existing applications?

Finally, consider your changing workforce. Are you seeing younger workers joining your team? The next generation of workers require the next generation of productivity tools to let them get things done. They’re used to the mobile experience they get on their personal mobile devices, running Android or iOS. These workers aren’t familiar with text-based applications, but are fluent in tap and swipe navigation – reducing training times, and errors, while accelerating productivity.

Five Reasons Touch is Growing in Enterprise Mobility

There are some great technologies heading into mobile these days, and it’s always exciting to see what emerging trends will flourish into mainstream. Some will have long adoption curves, while others may see only limited adoption.

One trend that has become mainstream, and provided tremendous opportunity along the way, has been the proliferation of touch-enabled mobile devices. For those who remember the late 1990s in mobile computing, you’ll recall the early days of stylus-based, or “pen computing” – when Palm OS and then PocketPC reset the user experience in mobility. Touch-enabled devices, such as those running Android or iOS, have done the same thing and are following some of the same themes for market adoption.

wavelink

Figure 1: Mobile shelf audit being conducted on a touch-enabled tablet computer

If you’re thinking about deploying new devices, or upgrading your mobile computers to the latest generation, here are some reasons to consider a touch-enabled device:

  • Speed: The operating systems on today’s touch-enabled mobile devices have made navigation incredibly fast.  With the swipe of a single finger, I can navigate through pages of information. Consider the possibilities when your workforce can navigate through a task this way!
  • Size: Think about the variety of display sizes you can choose from. By removing physical keys, even the smallest touch-enabled mobile devices saw screen size grow from 3.5-inches to 4-inches or more. And tablets offer an amazing experience starting at 7-inches, while remaining manageably mobile at as much as 11-inches. This size range has opened the door for new use cases for mobility (planograms, reading schematics, etc.)
  • Familiarity: Choosing a touch-enabled mobile computer provides your workers with a device that works like their personal smartphones and tablets do – likely with the same operating system and navigation experience (tap, swipe, pinch, pan, etc.). This increases users’ comfort with the device – reducing the learning curve, and improving accuracy.
  • Data entry: While physical keys may be minimal, the on-screen keyboards work well for data entry in many use cases. Like the operating system itself, the keyboard is something familiar to your workers. Productivity-oriented mobile apps – such as Wavelink Terminal Emulation, also allow you to create custom keyboards for your workers. This means that when your worker gets to a specific data entry field within the workflow, they’re presented with a keyboard that only offers the keys appropriate for entering in that field (who needs letters when the field is “Quantity”?).
  • Image: Over the past five years, I’ve spoken with many companies that were considering touch-enabled mobile devices, and a number of them included among their reasons: Their brand image.  These businesses saw a strong value in having touch-enabled mobile devices in the hands of workers who were in customer-facing roles. Consider retail store associates who are on the sales floor. They’re asked to help consumers find product, check stock, compare online prices, look up registry items, and more. In these roles, having a device that looks similar and works like the mobile device that the consumer is carrying makes the store associate more approachable, relatable, and gives the consumer a feeling that the store is trendy, modern, sophisticated, tech savvy, etc.

Touch-enabled devices are expanding in enterprise mobility because of these reasons, and surely others.  While there are numerous use cases where key-based data entry (and devices that deliver that experience) remains an absolute, the growth of touch-enabled devices has been impressive. When deciding what mobile device will best deliver productivity gains in your business, consider all your options. I’m happy to report you have a great number of choices!

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

164466799We talk about voice-enablement with enterprises throughout the supply chain a lot, and hear 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:

  • Voice-dedicated hardware: Traditional voice apps require a separate, proprietary computer (typically worn on the belt or shoulder of the worker), that house the speech-to-text and text-to-speech processor. However, if the barcode-scanning mobile-computers you’re currently deploying are fairly new (developed in the last 8-7 years), they already have the horsepower to handle voice processing, so you don’t need to buy proprietary voice hardware.
  • Middleware or “System Interfaces”: In most warehouse applications, your workers are already interfacing with 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 between your host system and mobile device client in order to enable voice. Your 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 charging 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. 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 percent 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.

Coming to ProMat 2015 (March 23-26) in Chicago, IL? Come see Speakeasy in action at the Wavelink booth #4864.

Warehouse Productivity is a Team Sport

177403287In this post (which is loaded with American football references), I’ve taken a few notes from the playbook of our good friends and strategic partners over at Zebra Technologies and added a bit of additional color commentary to build a kind of “can’t lose” game plan for optimizing your warehouse productivity and operations.  Taking a look at the recent post from Mr. Mark Wheeler at Zebra Productivity Does Not Increase by Voice Alone, several key points are brought to the forefront:

  • “Voice picking technology can be significantly increased with complementary solutions that aren’t necessarily voice-driven…” this is, indeed, correct.  For optimal worker productivity, add voice where voice makes sense.  Voice should be one part of a multi-modal warehouse picking solution, alongside barcode data capture and keyboard/touchscreen data input, for example.  These methods of data interaction team up to build the strongest solution – each contributing its strengths to the overall performance of your mobility deployment.
  • “Reporting tools can access [individual worker productivity] data and provide insights to the current process, identifying ways to streamline and improve it.” Tracking is a key to optimizing productivity.  Sure, there is the need to track for ROI purposes, but optimization includes continually measuring the performance of each worker and finding ways to get even more productivity by making small adjustments to the workflow.  This is an ongoing pursuit of perfect productivity – scoring the most output and tackling inefficiencies.

Here’s another big play: For your multi-modal warehouse picking, consider the benefit of implementing this solution without having to make changes to your host application (your WMS, etc.).  That’s a game-winner!  With Wavelink Speakeasy, all the voice-processing is handled on the mobile device, so there is no need to touch the host system to accommodate voice.  For more about this, you can check out my recent blog post “Hey Voice Vendor: Hands off my host system!” By keeping your existing host applications intact, you’ll realize significant cost savings, and score some extra points by easing the implementation.  Now, go in there and score that productivity touchdown!

Predictions for Mobile Productivity in 2015

What a wild ride 2014 has been in the mobile productivity space!  We’ve seen sizeable mergers, watched the mobile OS roller coaster ride continue, and been thankful to see the economy continue to increase demand for business throughout the supply chain.  I’ve recently taken a look back at my predictions for 2014 and found not too much was far off, though surely occurring in a different manner than I expected.  Now, with 2014 about to come to a close, let’s have a little fun picking what’s to come in 2015:

  • There will be more mergers and acquisitions among mobility vendors. In 2014, hardware vendors changed logos and several industry solution providers merged.  2015 will bring more consolidation as companies combine expertise to better serve specific markets and industries.
  • Mobile productivity meets the millennials.  As more Millennials start joining the workforce, enterprises are going to focus on equipping them with technology that is familiar to them – reducing the learning curve so they can be more productive, more quickly.
  • As Android multiplies, Microsoft’s mobile strategy will be determined.  The number of Android devices designed for mission-critical mobility has accelerated in 2014.  While that trend is expected to continue in 2015, the market will influence Microsoft’s direction for mobility.  We will find out if the market accepts 8.1 for mobile, waits for a Windows 10-based operating system, or shifts its confidence further toward Android.

Whether these or the numerous surprises 2015 will have in store for rugged mobility market, Wavelink will be here with you speaking the language of Mobile Productivity.  Got predictions of your own?  Email me at robert.destefano@wavelink.com with your expectations for mobile productivity.

Finally, on behalf of all of us at Wavelink, thank you for choosing us as your partner for mobile productivity.  We wish you all the best for a happy, healthy, and productive 2015!