Posted by Robert DeStefano
It’s always fun to look back at what the past year has meant to our industry, and (in a tip of the hat to William Shakespeare) if “what’s past is prologue”, then what is to come in the next year? Indeed, 2013 has seen a few significant themes take shape. Mobile device management has become significantly commoditized – as customers have begun to look past the common device-oriented features to larger, unified mobility solutions. A handful of new, mission-critical mobile devices have come to market – in some unique and interesting forms. Legacy voice vendors have struggled to get away from their Cold-war era technologies. Consumer smartphones and tablets have entered the enterprise through every door, window and loading dock available.
Yes, 2013 has met our expectations of continued evolution in enterprise mobility! 2014 has even more fun in store (and in the warehouse):
- The limits of the consumer device will become clear. Enterprises will see a more precise delineation between where BYOD or consumer smartphones/tablets can be used, and where rugged mobile computers will continue to be deployed.
- Voice-enablement will expand beyond stock picking. With full voice functionality, faster deployment, and at a lower cost, even companies that have deployed legacy voice for warehouse picking will be giving Speakeasy a fresh look for expending multi-modal data capture across supply chain tasks.
- There will be a reduction in point-product mobility providers. As more enterprises began doing in 2013, even more will seek out mobility solution providers that can offer more than just a single product. Unified mobility solutions – those that are designed together and, when deployed together, offer even greater value to the business, will be at the top of enterprise mobility wish-lists.
As these and other events unfold for IT in rugged environments, Wavelink is here to help you navigate. What are your enterprise mobility predictions for 2014? Please post your predictions in the comments section below.
Retailers, breathe a sigh of relief. Black Friday is over and Cyber Monday orders have all been placed. The initial rush is over. But the holiday shopping season is just beginning. There’s another three weeks’ worth of time for shopping (or procrastination of shopping) before the season ends. During those three weeks, more shoppers than ever will make their purchases on non-traditional POS systems. These systems will range from self-checkout kiosks to “scan as you go” services to mobile-based systems carried throughout the store by employees for a “check out anywhere” experience. There are pros and cons to each of these systems (and to traditional POS systems as well), but let’s start with a look at self-checkout services.
Self-checkout services are becoming increasingly common. Hardware retailer (and popular store for Dad gifts) Home Depot was one of the first stores to implement self-service checkout kiosks, but other retailers have followed, including grocery store giants Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Others have implemented self-checkout and then scraped it, including Costco, Albertsons and Ikea. It’s definitely not right for every retailer, but can have big benefits.
One of the major arguments for self-checkout is that it reduces overhead costs. Instead of having four cashiers manning four checkout lanes, one cashier can monitor four checkout lanes. Alternatively, the cashier can be cut out entirely. Either way, costs are reduced.
However, there’s a pretty big “but” with this. Self-checkout can cut down costs, but can also increase theft. Earlier this year, a Florida woman was caught trying to leave the store with $350 worth of products, for which she had paid $40. There’s no denying that self-checkout can create opportunities for thieves, but with careful monitoring by employees, the threat can be reduced. The benefit in costs savings may not be enough for some retailers, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of cutting down overhead vs. preventing theft.
People Like It. Some of Them, Anyway
A recent Cisco survey found that 52 percent of people prefer self-checkout. That also means that 48 percent of people don’t like self-checkout. While some shoppers prefer the DIY aspect of self-checkout, combined with the appeal of avoiding talking to other people, other shoppers enjoy the interpersonal interaction that comes with a traditional POS system or find the kiosks frustrating or difficult to use. Before implementing a self-checkout system, it’s important to determine where your customer base falls. If you determine that your customers are primarily in the “pro” camp, it’s equally important to ensure that the system you choose is easy to use, practical for your business model and won’t frustrate your customers. Even the staunchest of pro-self-checkout consumers will avoid a bad system.
It’s a “Gateway” Change
Still other retailers see self-checkout as the gateway to further change – a precursor of sorts to the days when you’ll be able to scan objects with your phone as you shop and then pay using a mobile wallet. The change to self-checkout could get consumers acclimated to the self-service idea quickly and easily.
Of course, it’s also an expensive proposition to install self-service kiosks at check out. And it’s even more expensive to move away from the system in favor of another one after just a few years. Before implementing this sort of system, consider carefully what you think is the future of checkout for retailers. Cutting edge is good, but cutting unnecessary changes is better.
Today Mobile Enterprise reminded us that on April 3, 2013, the cell phone celebrated its 40th birthday. It’s gone through many cosmetic facelifts since the first day the Vice President of Communications Systems at Motorola walked “down the streets of New York City, talking on a large, clunky yet portable phone,” that weighed almost three pounds, operated on radio frequencies and had about twenty minutes before the battery died.
It would be another ten years before the Motorola DynaTAC was commercially available and would bring with it a new era of the way we define business and success. If you saw someone back in the late 80s or early 90s on the street with a cell phone you knew they had to be someone important just because of the level of status the cell phone had achieved at that point. The Motorola DynaTAC was a game changer and as other manufacturers entered the mix, organizations began to see the potential cell phones would have in the business world. With a cell phone you could be anywhere in the country assisting a customer or meeting a potential customer and immediately report back to headquarters with an update. That single ability to call as soon as you walked out of building changed the course of business.
Back in 1973 Motorola knew that cell phones would change the way we lived and did business. Whether they could have predicted the exact way in which they have changed our lives is anyone’s guess (we also thought we would be driving cars in the sky by now). Through the addition of the Internet it further created a new generation of cell phone technology. This later addition cemented cell phones (smart phones) as critical components of our daily life. You think about all the ways you use your cell phone from staying on top of work, to checking in on friends and loved ones, to ordering pizza. Even how we are able to relay information in an emergency has changed just in 15-years. They are not just convenient tools in our daily lives but they changed the way we respond to emergency even as something as relatively minor as your car breaking down. 20 to 15-years ago unless you were fortunate enough to have one of the first generation car phones, you would have to hike to the nearest house, hope someone was home and call a tow service.
Cell phones changed and continue to change the course of business. By our growing consumer need to use cell phones/smart devices we are single-handedly dictating how we then do business. BYOD isn’t a phenomenon. It has become very much a real business changer. Consumers want to be able to use their cell phones at work in multiple ways, dictating then that an Enterprise really has to take a closer look at how they secure and manage these devices. Given the potential productivity gains from consumer devices it makes sense to consider integrating them in a DC, in government, transportation, healthcare and on the retail floor. According to the Yankee Group “half of all companies find it very difficult to manage software upgrades on mobile handsets and to manage the costs associated with mobile devices. Almost the same proportion finds distributing mobile applications to devices very difficult.” In just 40-years cell phones have become business changers, strategy changers and productivity changers. Happy 40th birthday to the cell phone.
History Channel’s latest reality TV creation, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, has brought a little-known underground industry into the limelight. This industry involves hired contractors working to track down missing cargo or 18-wheelers that have simply vanished off the map altogether. The show follows a number of colorful characters, the “bounty hunters,” as they attempt to find these trucks and/or retrieve their cargo so that trucking companies aren’t out heaps of money. And the hunters make a pretty penny in the process too.
As an employee of a transportation and logistics solutions provider, this show got me thinking, how is it even possible for a truck or its cargo to go missing in today’s modern era of transportation logistics and fleet management technology? I did some research and it turns out the current era isn’t as modern as one might think…
According to Kimberly Knickle, practice director at IDC Manufacturing Insights, just 26 percent of respondents in IDC’s supply chain mobility survey reported using smartphones and media tablets for logistics. Dwight Klappich, a research vice president at Gartner didn’t fare much better in his industry analysis. Klappich recently asked an audience of carriers and private fleet operators how many of them had mobile-enabled fleets. About half of the audience responded that they did so. Klappich then asked how many of the vehicles were equipped with GPS systems and the response was significantly lower. “So, basically they’re driving around in $300,000 units, but still using paper to track their activities,” he told Logistics Management. So according to industry experts, many trucking companies are keeping track of their expensive rigs (and cargo to boot) with a paper trail – kept by the trucker – inside the truck? The premise of this show is starting to make a lot more sense.
But the industry is slowly changing, says Klappich. As drivers are using more technology in their personal lives, they want to move away from antiquated techniques, such as paper logs, while on the job. Due to a current driver shortage and an increased incentive to comply with driver requests, along with reduced costs, trucking companies are taking note and rolling out mobile solutions to their fleets. And with good reason; the benefits of mobile technology on big rigs are many: drivers can capture signatures as proof-of-delivery, communicate with their company, receive permits, reconcile fuel taxes, photograph damage to deliveries and navigate where they are going. In addition, tablets and other mobile devices enable two-way communication between the driver and dispatcher.
While it may be some time before tablets are widely used across the trucking industry, one technology that is much more commonplace is the use of a “black box” or electronic on-board recorder device that not only enables the driver to log his miles, but also allows the distributor or trucking company to keep tabs on the driver’s routes and track his status in real-time. Leveraging this kind of technology is a no-brainer according to Anne Ferro of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Farro states that most companies that switch to electronic logs do so “very effectively and very profitably.” She also states that those who leverage this technology are “finding it’s a very, very efficient mechanism for tracking on-duty status.” According to Commercial Carrier Journal, electronic logging technology is not just a beneficial service for drivers and their respective owners but it may soon be the law. Farro predicts that a rule mandating the use of electronic onboard records will be proposed by September 2013.
Until tablets become widely adopted across the industry, or electronic on-board recorders are federally mandated, it seems the big rig bounty hunters can keep their day jobs.
The Cofares Group supply products ranging from medicine to health and beauty products to 13,000 pharmacies in Spain from nearly 30 distribution centers. Often they deliver orders that range from one to 20 items to each pharmacy three or four times a day. They need to be able to make these deliveries quickly and accurately.
“Our customers evaluate us based on our ability to deliver complete and accurate orders,” said Abelardo Vaquerizo, duty manager of Cofares Group. “It is a hectic environment where we need to fill orders quickly, but it doesn’t matter how fast we are if we get an order wrong.”
Distribution centers process a large number of orders on a daily basis and Cofares is no different. Most of the medicines are filled by automated machines, but health and beauty items are picked by hand from the warehouse and loaded into delivery trucks. It is a logistical challenge to ensure that the right items get in the right order on the right trucks every time in the most accurate and efficient way possible.
With the number of orders being processed every day, it is a logistical challenge to ensure the right items get in the right order on the right trucks every time. Cofares, through its technology partner, Felguera TI, an affiliate company of Duro Felguera, selected the Speakeasy voice solution from Wavelink to add text-to-speech and speech-to-text functionality to their warehouse applications. The ability for Speakeasy to combine voice with other types of data entry, such as bar code scanning, provides a further crosscheck to ensure that tasks are accurately completed.
“We have initially implemented Speakeasy in two of our larger distribution centers in Madrid,” says Vaquerizo. “Workers are able to speak into their device the item they need to pick and have it speak back to them with a bin location. Once there, they can scan the barcode on the bin, select the items and verbally confirm the item and quantity. This gives us even greater accuracy while also helping them complete the task faster.”
In locations where Speakeasy is being used, Cofares handles approximately 1,200 orders per day. Prior to Speakeasy, there was an average of 20 to 30 errors in those orders, which was still a 97.5 percent accuracy rate. However, with each incorrect order, there was the cost of returning the product and a loss of the sale as well as the negative impression it left with the customer. With Speakeasy, Cofares has virtually eliminated errors with an average of zero to two errors per 1,200 orders.
Cofares were also able to benefit from an intuitive user interface, which allows any employee to pick up a device and use it immediately without needing to create a voice profile. Vaquerizo adds, “Our employees have been very happy with the ease with which they can use Speakeasy. We have experienced very short training times, where we have been able to quickly get a new worker using the system. This was a big cost benefit in terms of our ability to be immediately productive.”
Since Speakeasy is a client-side solution that does not require the addition of voice servers or modification to the host applications, the implementation of the voice solution went smoothly and was completed in just a matter of days. Adding voice to streamline your operations should be simple, straightforward and effective, in today’s non-stop supply chain environment it just has to be.
There are a lot of terminal emulation products on the market and all of them basically fulfill the same need, and for many companies they don’t think about terminal emulation as tool that can also provide an additional boost to their productivity. It’s a tool to manage, access and maintain connections and bring back-office automation to the mobile worker, but where else can it streamline my business operations?
Sometimes it is just the little things that increase productivity. Traditionally, on a ruggedized mobile device you have your black screen with green text communicating actions or information to the end-user. These screens can be very difficult to read and often times have lots of information that isn’t necessarily relevant to all end-users. By adding a simple WYSIWYG screen editor called a Screen Reformatter to your emulation tool, administrators are able to capture emulation screens and then reformat the screens to optimize the user’s experience. You can personalize the end-users experience based on the ruggedized hand-held device and work environment.
With a Screen Reformatter an administrator can change the background color on the device to something different, like the color white for example, and change the font color to, say, black making it easier for the end-user to see what they are doing. Administrators can even remove unnecessary fields and/or screens that users have to cycle through to get to the information they need. Likewise, with functions, administrators can remove certain functions that show-up on the device that isn’t relevant for a particular group of workers or individuals. Maybe they just need to go to a certain bin and pick a quantity but on the device they don’t need it to say “pick quantity” they just care about the actual quantity. By removing unnecessary information it frees up the limited screen space enabling administrators to increase the text size of more relevant information making it easier for end-users to do their job.
Through the use of a Screen Reformatter you can provide an improved user experience, therefore making it easier for someone to do their job that much quicker. Through increased productivity you’ll see gains that help you meet your businesses goals.
Posted by Brandon Hill
As I mentioned in “Cutting to the Chase: Let’s Talk MDM“, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find thoughtful, insightful discussions on mobile device management, enterprise mobility, etc. With a few exceptions, such as The Enterprise Mobility Forum, and a few LinkedIn groups, it’s hard to find discussions that aren’t bogged down by this individual pitching that solution, and so on.
We want to change that. I invite you to check out our LinkedIn Group where we want to create a community of enterprise mobility professionals connecting, and talking all things “mobile ecosystem”. We filter who can and cannot join, ensuring that anyone who is simply there to promote their solution will either be rejected, or removed. The hope is that you can talk shop, ask questions, and/or learn new technologies without spending an afternoon weeding through spam.
Take a look. Don Osburn posted a follow-up to his post on Tuesday, that I think you’ll find interesting. Feel free to submit your own discussions, polls, questions, etc., and rememeber to pass it along to anyone else you think would be interested.
Have a great Labor Day weekend!