Category: Supply Chain
Posted by Robert DeStefano
“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!
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.
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.