Author: Robert DeStefano
Posted by Robert DeStefano
When 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.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
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).
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: email@example.com
Posted by Robert DeStefano
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.
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.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
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.
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!
We 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.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
In 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!
Posted by Robert DeStefano
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
It amazes me how complex some traditional voice applications are to implement. Looking at some of the workflow diagrams publically available from these vendors, I’m left scratching my head. Voice is an additional mode of data capture. It is the vocal equivalent of pressing a few keys on a device’s keypad or scanning a barcode. It takes place at the point of activity – where the worker is picking product in the warehouse, for example. It offers huge productivity gains for the business by making that mobile worker be able to complete tasks faster. So, why do some voice vendors make it so complex? It baffles me that a voice vendor would require access to make changes to your host system (your warehouse management or ERP system) in order to implement their voice application. Think about it: at some point, you made a significant investment in selecting the host system that best fit the needs of your business, and now, your voice vendor wants to make changes to it in order to make their system work. Once they’ve made these changes, they’re locked in. Every time you want to make a change to your host system software, you now need to include your voice vendor in those discussions (and expect to be billed for their services), to make sure any changes you make anywhere in your host system don’t break their voice application. That’s frustrating. To draw an analogy, if I want to have my electrician put a new light fixture in my house, I don’t want to have to pay my air conditioning contractor to be involved – just because the air conditioning system also happens to use electricity. Voice can be implement easily, and much more quickly, when voice is enabled at the point of activity. With Wavelink Speakeasy, all the voice processing is done on the mobile device. What does this mean? From the perspective of your host system, the fact that the data was entered via voice is irrelevant. As I mentioned earlier, voice is one method of data entry – part of a multi-modal approach to capturing data. All the voice-enabling technology can take place at the point of activity, just as it does for the other means of data entry. There is no need for your voice vendor to be touching your host system, nor charging you recurring fees every time you want to make any host system changes.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the challenges that must be considered before diving into writing your own enterprise mobile applications. However, there are a good number of reasons to write a custom application. This route need not be riddled with challenges or regrets – provided you consider the options and keep your objective in focus. You’re choosing to develop your own enterprise application with an objective of increasing the productivity of workers. In the face of a volatile market for mobility hardware and operating systems, you can deliver a solution that yields huge gains for your operating margin. There are four considerations I recommend keeping in mind as you scope your own application: security, standards, compatibility, and performance.
Security: consider how data is going to be secured on the device. Here, browser-based apps can have advantage over native applications because your browser is essentially providing a window to a host-based application. Need to lock it down? Shut the window. However, also be sure to avoid compromising the user experience to meet security requirements, and make considerations for the ease of offloading local data.
Standardization: there is a concurrent shift in mobility clients with the shift in mobile devices, so writing an app once and making it deployable on many device can be a challenge. “That’s why I’d use HTML5” you might think. Sure, but remember that HTML5 does not offer a standard in itself. And here again, the continuous churn of updates to mobile operating systems can be a cause for application failures.
Compatibility: What happens when the next OS or new device platform is introduced? How flexible is your application across devices, operating systems, and don’t forget host systems. Native apps often result in vendor exclusions – where the application is compatible with, say, one supply chain management system, but not another. This can lock you into systems you didn’t intend.
Performance: your investment in your supply chain management system is significant. Don’t ruin it with a sub-par mobile experience. This is especially a challenge when developing a browser-based app using the default browser on the mobile device. Often these browsers were written for desktops and then squeezed into mobile devices. Rendering issues can be a huge time waste for users (picture the warehouse worker standing around for 5-10 seconds between screens, just waiting for the browser to present the next screen in their workflow). Make considerations for locked-down network environments.
If you’re going to write your own mobile application, take advantage of Wavelink Velocity – our secure enterprise browser. Velocity’s super-fast rendering lets your mobile app work faster, and session-persistence lets workers resume tasks right where they left the workflow. It’s secure, since application data is streamed from the host system (not stored on the mobile device). Velocity interfaces to all leading supply chain management systems, so compatibility concerns are eased. Finally, Velocity delivers on the promise of a single development platform across mobile operating systems, so you can equip users with the device type that best fits their task.
Posted by Robert DeStefano
Enterprise mobility is so fast-moving that many companies find themselves seeking any means they can to introduce some stability into their deployments. Changing hardware, operating systems, evolving security and mobility management requirements and more can make anyone feel like they’re in a whirlwind when trying to create a mobility strategy. One of the few areas where you might feel more control is the mobile application, and there’s that moment where the thought creeps in: “Why don’t we just develop our own mobile apps? Then we’re in control.” There are times when an internally developed or custom mobile application can make sense, and I’ll discuss that in another post. However, there are many times where this ambition to Write-Your-Own can lead to disaster for your worker productivity – especially for consumer device operating systems like iOS and Android.
First, consider how you’ll write your own mobile app. What OS platform will you target? If you begin writing for iOS, are you certain you’ll never want to go to any version of Windows? Are you that certain of the demise of market-leading Android?
Next, there is the OS version you’ll choose. If you begin developing for Android Kit-Kat, are you sure your app will be compatible with Android “L” when it is released? How about “M”, “N”, and “O” – all of which will undoubtedly be released during the life of your enterprise mobile deployment. Even minor OS updates need to be considered: sometimes OS updates break stuff. Will you be ready for that continuous support?
Are you using any peripherals in your mobile deployment? If you’re deploying for mission-critical tasks, you might be deploying barcode scanning attachments, or mobile payment accessories. The providers of these accessories make changes to their own SDK’s, and managing these revisions warrant the same level of attention as OS updates.
Then, there is the overarching issue of resource investment. Writing an application for a specific task may not be the best way to optimize the productivity of workers performing that task. It may also not be the best use of internal developers’ time – time that may be better served on projects that optimize the very business processes you’re looking to standardize on with a custom application.
Among the great advantages of Wavelink Terminal Emulation (TE) is that it can offer the stability you’re looking for in your mobile application. Wavelink TE clients are available for all the leading mobile operating systems: from Windows CE/Mobile to iOS and Android. You don’t need to worry about managing the OS updates – Wavelink offers day 1 support for most new OS versions, and works with device and peripheral manufacturers to ensure compatibility with their SDK releases. Finally, TE already works with your supply chain management systems, so you don’t need to invest in integration. If you’re looking to bring a level of security and stability to your mobile strategy, Wavelink TE is the way to go.