Wavelink Blog

Category: Supply Chain

Five Reasons to Modernize your Warehouse

There is a lot of pressure on warehouse operators to improve productivity – no surprise there. With many reporting a push for annual productivity increases of 5% or more, modernization of mobile warehouse technologies is becoming more of a mandate than a wish. Common reasons to modernize come from various angles, so here are five that I’ve been hearing most often:

  • Aging mobile devices: The lifecycle of rugged mobile computers is significantly longer than consumer devices. Many companies have rugged devices in use for five, seven, even ten years, or more. However, technological advancements (everything from processing power to data capture options) in the mobile computers that have been introduced since their last hardware implementation are inspiring a new wave of device refreshes.
  • Improving mobile application experiences: With a huge push toward faster shipments, many companies are evaluating how to help workers more quickly and intuitively navigate task workflows. This means mobile applications have to be more intuitive and easy to learn – especially for businesses that employ a sizeable seasonal workforce.
  • Warehouse productivityChanging workforce demographics: A growing number of workers entering warehouse operations have never before seen a “green screen” terminal emulation client. But they grew up with tap-and-swipe user experiences on their smartphones and tablets. Giving them a familiar experience in their work applications essentially flattens their learning curve and speeds their productivity.
  • Fading support for legacy mobile operating systems: Several versions of Microsoft’s mobile operating systems will be unsupported by 2020. The choices among Android-based mobile computers are starting to reach deeper into supply chain use cases, while the first Windows 10 products are now joining this market.
  • Getting more from existing systems: Modernizing your mobile deployment should focus on exactly that: the mobile computers and mobility apps that your workers use to get their job done. You have already invested in and spent time optimizing your host application (whether your WMS, ERP, etc.). By modernizing your mobile technology, you can get more out of your existing host systems for years to come.

What forces are inspiring you to modernize supply chain mobility? Email me or share your story with me on Twitter.

The New Android World: Dealing With BIG Migration Expenses

illustration black and android phone on white background

Your business has most likely been running Windows Mobile or Windows CE for a device generation or two. From the introduction of PocketPC in the rugged device market in 2001, Microsoft delivered a stable platform that brought mobile productivity to manufacturers, retailers, and the entire supply chain in between.

However, the last five years have really forced a reevaluation of where to look next.

What’s next?

At first, there was the discussion of consumer devices moving into the hands of workers who traditionally carried rugged mobile computers. While the lines determining where consumer-grade fits and where it fails became clearer, the operating system landscape was significantly altered.

Since its first introduction to the rugged mobile computing market in late 2011, Android has grown in both the number of rugged devices shipped and the number of device form factors for which it’s available.

Since 2015, analyst firms such as VDC Research have pointed to statistics that prove Android is reaching “critical mass” in the market.

With industry experts recognizing Android as a viable candidate for your next mobility hardware refresh, your focus may be shifting to the remaining barriers to choosing this OS. That’s good.

A major area of concern: the expense of a migration.

App migration is expensive

When the first Android-based rugged devices entered the market, the most common objection concerned the mobile apps, with questions like, What am I supposed to do with my applications? Are there equivalent apps already available for Android? Will my application vendor build me an Android version? How much will all of this cost me?

It’s a huge jump—probably not seen since the days of moving your applications away from DOS around the turn of the century. And just like then, a big benefit of making the leap is an application experience that’s significantly more user-friendly.

That’s all nice, but at what cost?

Since the first rugged Android devices, many application providers, including Wavelink, have brought their apps to Android. Vendors have faced two choices:

1. Bring the existing application, in its current form, over to Android

2. Rewrite the whole application for this new operating system

The first option was a relatively quick solution, but wouldn’t fully take advantage of all that the Android OS offered. The second option—while it could allow developers to optimize the app for Android—was a much larger development effort (read: more expensive to create).

Terminal Emulation

Wavelink brought Terminal Emulation (TE) to the Android operating system in late 2011, just in time for the first rugged Android devices.

With TE, early adopters of Android devices could stay with their trusted mobility client and begin to roll out new devices. TE has been a proven platform for decades, and the ability to adopt new hardware without the risk of new software at the same time has been a relief for many customers. However, with its “green screen interface,” TE left something to be desired by those looking for a more Android experience.

Android—and fellow consumer operating system, iOS from Apple—really changed the mobile experience. Finger-tapping, swiping, pinching and panning are all new ways to navigate on a smartphone.

Aside from the way we interface with apps, the devices offer bright, beautiful screens. Display technology advanced with incredible clarity. How does one take advantage of all of this—the full Android experience?

In the same way that application vendors were reluctant to fully rewrite their apps for Android, companies around the globe discovered the same pains of cost, risk, and effort to migrate from their existing applications to new alternatives on Android.

To solve this, Wavelink created the Velocity platform.

Velocity

Velocity takes your existing telnet client or web application and modernizes it for a touchscreen experience. What does that mean? Your existing, trusted “green screen” client becomes an Android app—complete with screen-tapping navigation; a clean, intuitive user experience; and the ability to offer full color and graphics so workers can easily read and interpret task workflows.

You don’t need to migrate to a new application when you can modernize with Velocity. Underneath that elegant interface is the tried-and-trusted telnet client performance you’ve relied on for years. You can continue to depend on your Android application with confidence.

Only now, the user experience for your workers is much more intuitive and familiar, and it replaces multiple keypresses with single screen-taps.

Learn more by downloading our free white paper below!

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Voice Enablement Speaks to Problems Solved

Making an investment in technology isn’t about developing or buying a product, but a problem that the technology solves. Here at Wavelink, our investment in voice enablement has been focused on solving the problems our customers face: What problems with their current workflows can be addressed with voice? What problems with traditional voice applications can be solved with a fresh approach via voice enablement?

Infographic

Infographic: Top problems solved with voice technology

The answer varies by business, and you can see some of the more common challenges driving voice adoption in the accompanying infographic. It is always interesting to hear a personal story from a decision maker explaining why they chose Speakeasy.  Just as impressive are the metrics by which they measure the ROI on their voice enablement implementation – which can range from dollars and cents, to the less obvious employee morale, etc.  All these show why voice adoption is projected to grow significantly over the next several years.

The goals all yield some commonality in the problems solved: Improvements – whether measured by accuracy, safety, training, and others, all tie back to making sure the optimal amount of product moves to the next stage in the supply chain. That’s productivity!

Speaking of productivity, are you planning to attend Oracle OpenWorld next month?  Wavelink will be there to talk mobile productivity. Stop by and get a demo of Speakeasy in booth #3537.

Terminal Emulation — the ‘Zip Code’ for Task Workers

I’m old enough to remember when the U.S. Postal Service introduced the “Zoning Improvement Plan” or ZIP codes in 1963. And a memorable slogan from an early ad campaign introducing this new process-efficiency plan has stuck with me ever since: “Mail moves the country. ZIP codes move the mail.”

In the areas of warehouse and distribution center modernization, there’s an ever-increasing need for process efficiencies to boost both productivity and accuracy. The margin for error is being scrutinized and warehouse operations present opportunities for competitive differentiation.

Achieving the “perfect order” (encompassing picking accuracy, on-time delivery rate, shipping without damage, and order entry accuracy) is increasingly the goal.

Terminal Emulation—an enterprise mobility staple since the 1990s

Though not nearly as old as the first ZIP codes, Terminal Emulation (TE) has been a staple for enterprise mobility solutions since the 1990s when wireless mobility gained traction. TE made it easy to see and capture the data from the server-based supply chain management systems.

Wavelink TE has a proven 20-year track record of meeting business needs. Without question, it’s a task worker “productivity catalyst” for enterprises across industries.

And as product marketing manager Rob DeStefano explains in “The Android Expectation” white paper that you can download below, Wavelink brought TE to the Android operating system in late 2011—in time for the first rugged Android devices.

“With TE, early adopters of Android devices could stay with their trusted mobility client and begin to roll out new devices,” DeStefano says. “The ability to adopt new hardware without the risk of new software at the same time has been a relief for many customers. However, with its ‘green screen’ interface, TE left something to be desired by those looking for a more ‘Android experience’”.

DeStefano explains that Android—and fellow consumer operating system, iOS from Apple—really changed the mobile experience. Finger-tapping, swiping, pinching and panning are all new ways to navigate on a smartphone. “Aside from the way we interface with apps, the devices offer bright, beautiful screens. Display technology advanced with incredible clarity. How does one take advantage of all of this—the full Android experience?”

According to DeStefano, in the same way that application vendors were reluctant to fully rewrite their apps for Android, companies around the globe discovered the same pains of cost, risk, and effort to migrate from their existing applications to new alternatives on Android. To solve this, Wavelink created the Velocity platform.

“Velocity takes your existing telnet client or web application and modernizes it for a touchscreen experience,” DeStefano says. “What does that mean? Your existing, trusted ‘green screen’ client becomes an Android app—complete with screen-tapping navigation; a clean, intuitive user experience; and the ability to offer full color and graphics so workers can easily read and interpret task workflows.”

DeStefano says you don’t need to migrate to a new application when you can modernize with Velocity. “Underneath that elegant interface is the tried-and-trusted telnet client performance you’ve relied on for years. You can continue to depend on your Android application with confidence. Only now, the user experience for your workers is much more intuitive and familiar, and it replaces multiple keypresses with single screen-taps.”

Here are some additional key points about Wavelink TE:

Modernize the host application automatically

Velocity handles the conversion of your host application’s text interface automatically, so you can devote your software-development resources to other projects. Your workers gain a mobile application that is contemporary and familiar, while your business avoids the costs of having to develop one.

Skip the middleware

The Velocity platform consists of the mobile app/browser and administrative console. Complexity doesn’t get between your mobile devices and your host application.

Customize keyboards

Many of today’s touchscreen devices have few, if any, physical keys for data entry. Velocity lets you create customized onscreen keypads, so you can present workers with the data entry keys appropriate for the task at hand.

Raise productivity with an optimized mobile experience

Powerful scripting and reformatting capabilities let you automate data parsing and customize your workers’ mobile experience like never before.

Get the white paper now!

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How You Can Use Android Without Messing With Your Host Apps

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Perhaps the greatest concern when doing any sort of upgrade or tech refresh is summed up in this question: “What will this do to the systems I’ve already invested in and have optimized?”

Your supply chain management systems—whether your WMS, ERP, etc.—are serious investments, and the resources (dollars, man-hours, and more) spent perfecting them make you hesitant to touch them unless you absolutely must.

The problem with third-party vendors

It’s even worse when you must allow a third-party vendor to get in and touch those systems. You worry about what they’re touching, and then you worry about how much it will cost you in the long run.

A third party making changes to your system means multiple expenses (and risks).

The first concern is about what their initial changes will do. Next (and often a larger expense) is the cost to bring the vendor back in to retest its software every time you want to make a change to your system. Even if your changes are for a completely unrelated reason, you’re paying that vendor to come back and retest, just to be sure.

We’ve witnessed this type of business model from many vendors over the years. It can be painful.

Choose an Android device and modernize your telnet or web application with Velocity

Choosing an Android device—and modernizing your telnet or web application with Velocity—means you can make the leap to Android without having to touch your host apps. Velocity modernizes the mobility clients you already have installed and that are already working with your host.

Even if you choose to voice-enable your Velocity-based applications with the Wavelink Speakeasy solution, the same promise holds true.

Speakeasy runs completely on the mobile device, meaning that everything that takes the spoken phrases and turns them into text for fields within your application is handled within the mobile device. As far as your host application is concerned, there’s no difference between data entered via voice and data scanned from a barcode, or keyed in by the user.

You’ve made a significant investment in your host applications. There’s no need to compromise that investment to get the latest mobile tech for your workers.

The next generation platform

Palm OS, and PocketPC/WindowsCE/Windows Mobile—right through today’s leading operating systems. The touchscreen experience is bringing mobility into its next generation.

With the mass-market accessibility of smartphones, your workers are more ready than ever to willingly (and possibly, thankfully) adopt a new mobility platform. Best of all, when you choose Velocity as your platform for Android applications, you can make the transition easy while preserving the investments you’ve already made.

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Adding Android: A Few of the Biggest Benefits

Android

As you consider the implications of introducing Android devices to your supply chain workers, you’ll see two camps emerge that represent the majority of your team.

One group has been using your telnet clients and is very familiar with how it works. The other group is generally your younger workers and new hires—many of whom have never seen a “green screen” app in their lives and have no idea how to use one.

Choosing Android mobile devices for your next mobility deployment—and modernizing your mobility clients with Velocity—will help you boost productivity in both of these groups.

How Android benefits younger/less experienced workers

The more obvious group who will benefit is the younger crowd who doesn’t have to learn how to use a telnet application. This will save countless hours on its own.

Remember, these workers (mostly late Gen X’ers through millennials) have grown up during rapid changes in technology and don’t fear diving into something new. For them, the only new thing will be the workflow. 

They’ve grown up with Android over the last several years and will tend to embrace your modernized application because it works just like the smartphone they carry.

How Android benefits more experienced workers

As for the more experienced camp of users, they will also embrace your Velocity modernized app on an Android mobile device, but for very different reasons.

First off, while they’re very familiar and comfortable with their telnet client app, they’re not unfamiliar with the Android user experience. While change can be scary, delivering their familiar workflow in a modernized application is actually what this crowd has been hoping for.

They look at the smartphones in their pockets and have recognized opportunity. They want to be able to work faster.

While they know your current telnet-based workflow with their eyes closed, giving them the Android experience is a win for personal productivity. These are your more mature workers who realize that the current devices and apps may be limiting all they can accomplish before their shift ends.

In both cases, the user experience offered through a modernized app is an opportunity to increase productivity for all your workers. It’s an unusual opportunity wherein the question isn’t who will resist, but rather which group will embrace the experience faster.

But wait! There’s more…

Beyond the familiarity of the experience, as well as the productivity that Android can unlock, there is more you can do to influence the intuitiveness of your workflow directly.

The Velocity administrative console gives you control over how those modernized screens are presented to the user.

Color-coded visual cues

One common practice that companies are embracing is color-coded visual cues. Users of a text-based client like telnet would key in a “Y” for “yes” and key in an “N” for “no”.

Now, however, these two responses are tap-able responses on the application screen. To help address speed and even language challenges, color coding responses such as these (the “yes” box is green, the “no” box is red) can make it even easier for workers to accurately choose their response.

Others have taken to color-coding entire task navigation—making each type of task workflow a different color. In this scenario, all the screens in your Picking workflow may have a green background, while Receiving screens would be presented on a blue background.

Adding elements such as color-coding make at-a-glance navigation even faster for workers, which can accelerate the training of new workers, among other things.

Custom keyboards

One additional customization element that can improve worker productivity significantly is custom keyboards.

Many Android rugged devices, like their consumer-grade cousins, are designed with few physical buttons or keys. While standard keypads for QWERTY and numeric data entry are useful, you can create custom keyboards that present users with only the on-screen keys they would need for a specific data field. This reduces the potential for typographical errors that can impact data accuracy.

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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!

“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.

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!