Wavelink Blog

Category: Supply Chain

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!

Looking ahead to the MODEX show

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

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

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

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

NRF 2016: Modernization and More!

NRF2016The 2016 edition of the National Retail Federation show was my 17th consecutive, and like the previous experiences, this year’s exhibits showcased a number of exciting trends in the retail market! We were really excited about the response to the mobility modernization theme, as evidenced by the string of new mobile devices introduced by our device manufacturing partners. Zebra’s TC8000 was especially close to home here, as modernization was echoed in the device’s software – All-Touch TE, powered by Wavelink.

There seemed to be a significant number of attendees who were entering the mobile technology refresh cycle. Interestingly, some admitted they were waiting for the market to settle on which operating systems would be safe bets. It seems more evident this year that Android is gaining trust, and similarly, new Windows-based devices were proving there is a credible future for Microsoft’s platform in the enterprise mobility arena.

Among the many great show recaps I’ve read, a couple of great recaps came from industry journal Consumer Goods Technology, and research firm VDC Research. These, along with many others, offer great perspectives on the trends noted across the show. For Wavelink, we’re looking forward to further conversations with the great folks we had the opportunity to meet in New York, and will be watching how this year’s trends play out over the course of the year.

What were your thoughts on NRF 2016? Email me or tweet @rob_destefano

The Retail Evolution – looking forward to NRF2016!

IMG_1889.JPG_s

IMG_1889.JPG_sThe National Retail Federation puts on a great show. Every year in January, the industry gathers in New York City to see where the market is going and to compare the direction versus a year back. As we ready for NRF2016, here are some reflections from last year’s show and what I’m looking forward to next week.

  • Mobile Payment, and really, payment in general: EMV payment was expected to reach the United States and there was a lot to consider in order to be ready. Surprisingly, through a number of implementation challenges, this is still slowly rolling out. After the October target passed, articles were circulating suggesting only about 40 percent of consumers actually had received chip-embedded credit/debit cards. While most of my preferred retailers haven’t yet made the switch procedurally, they seem to be hardware-ready. I ask store associates in stores have gone live about their experience, and aside from the consumer learning curve (don’t remove your card from the reader until the system tells you to do so!), the implementations seem to have gone well. At this year’s show, I look forward to see more design options for POS, both fixed and mobile, that support this.
  • Rugged and Consumer mobility: This is a battle that has been going for several years now, and I think many businesses are starting to recognize the use cases within which consumer mobile devices might work, versus those where the rugged mobile computer remains the only viable option. As rugged device manufacturers such as Zebra, Honeywell, Datalogic and others have been bringing Android into their portfolio, it has changed the discussion quite a bit. However, aside from the physical durability of the rugged devices, they also continue to provide the safety of Microsoft operating systems for businesses that still aren’t sold on the long-term viability of consumer OSes in vertical use cases. Here, I am excited to see the rugged manufacturers share their Android and Windows-based devices – especially the devices that are available with your choice between the two.
  • The Always-Exciting Announcements: The last few years, M&A seemed to be almost as popular as new product announcements. During 2015, we continued to see acquisition activity – especially among Supply Chain Management system providers. However, new product announcements are always timed with this show. Zebra has already announced its TC8000 mobile computer – and staked a claim to saving an hour per worker, per shift. Wavelink is excited by this news, as Zebra includes All-Touch Terminal Emulation, powered by Wavelink, on this new generation of mobile computers. It will be fun to see the latest mobility offerings across vendors.
  • Modernization: The trend toward modernized mobility in retail is gaining momentum. In our booth, we will be demonstrating Velocity, showing how modernizing the mobile experience is critical to mobile productivity. Zebra’s announcement, referenced above, is another signpost along this path to modernization. I look forward to seeing how the whole retail industry is modernizing – as consumers are clearly changing the way they shop for goods and services.

NRF is always a great show. If you’re planning to attend, stop by Wavelink at booth #1310. We would love to hear your perspectives on the show, and the mobility challenges you’re looking solve in your business. You can also follow Wavelink (@Wavelink) and me (@rob_destefano) on twitter for live tweets from the show. Hope to see you in New York City!

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!

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.