Wearables, Voice and Warehouse Productivity

Productivity is a global language, and the challenge to continuously realize gains year-after-year is universal. Over time, I’ve covered several of the myths about voice applications, hidden costs to watch out for, and also how to add voice to mobile solutions you already have in place. Another topic to consider is how to realize the productivity gains you’re targeting – even with all the dynamics in warehouse technology. For this, I’ll share an excerpt from an article published by MHD Supply Chain Solutions in Australia, authored by Wavelink’s own Simon Storey, country manager for Australia and New Zealand:

From the article: Wearables and Voice, MHD Supply Chain Solutions, January/February 2016

“Significant productivity gains

Equipped with a wearable computer and voice capabilities, the productivity improvements for warehouse and DC staff can be seen instantly. Rather than having to pause to refer to a mhd
screen for a pick list and enter commands, details can be communicated to them as they move about the facility.

Termed “motion flow”, such an advance can have a large impact on staff productivity.

For example, staff at 3M Australia’s warehouse in Sydney have been using voice capabilities for more than 12 months. In that time, the staff have embraced the technology and find it helps them improve accuracy and efficiency.

Distribution centre manager for 3M Australia, Daniel La Greca said the high pick rate within his warehouse is extremely complex and labour intensive.

‘Our people love the fact that they can now keep their eyes on the ball by speeding-up the scanning stage,’ he said. ‘I’m confident that the ability for us to do all of our picking functions without setting down and picking up devices will save a significant amount of time, resulting in significant savings and new efficiencies.’”

Check out the full article (registration required), including perspectives on the “perfect storm” of change that warehouse operators are facing, as well as suggestions for how to incorporate these technologies with a layered approach.  How are advances in mobile technology influencing your future plans for maximizing productivity? Email me or contact me on Twitter at @Rob_DeStefano

A Validation of Mobile Productivity

ZebraTechA few weeks ago, we released an update to the on-premise and SaaS versions of our Avalanche product. With three decades of managing mission-critical mobile devices under our belt, one might think the release of a service pack is a bit mundane. However, the recent activity around Avalanche has been quite the opposite.

Along with this release, we took a moment to celebrate the most recent validation we received from a long-time device manufacturer and partner. Although Avalanche has been validated numerous times over the years by Zebra, we’re extremely proud to have received Zebra Enterprise Validation on their latest mobile computers. As customers choose the recently released TC70 series or the brand new TC8000 for their mobility deployments, they can rest assured that managing those devices with Avalanche is more than “just another-third-party enterprise mobility management product”.

Zebra Enterprise Validation “confirms an application works as intended on a particular Zebra Technologies device. Application developers participating in the program work closely with Zebra Technologies’ engineers to validate their application’s functionality under common customer usage scenarios. This thorough evaluation provides assurance that devices will perform as expected when used with the application.

Wavelink is honored to receive such recognition. While our own extensive knowledge of mission critical productivity inspires the products we build, the extensive, independent testing performed by a device manufacturer provides our customers an even higher level of assurance. Enterprises don’t have time for vendor finger-pointing, or products that offer “limited support”. Businesses depend on all of us, as solution providers, to deliver compatibility as part of our partnership. Wavelink delivers on that promise with each of our products, and we’re proud to add this badge of validation as a symbol of our continued commitment to our customers and partners.

Dashboards: Data in your Race for Productivity

Interior of  a 2007 stock car dashboard

Interior of a 2007 stock car dashboard

I’m a fan of auto racing. Stock cars, specifically. I’ve always been fascinated by the adjustments teams make over the course of a single race that can make the difference between a car that is capable of running mid-pack, and one that can be a top-10 car or race leader. Dialing in everything from tire air pressure, to adjustments that can loosen or tighten up handling in the corners, a driver can start a race with a car that feels one way, and by the final few laps, have a car that’s handling a completely different way.

Drivers can adjust the way they drive, but only so much. When the throttle is on the floor, but the car just won’t hold the bottom line coming out of the corners, there’s data that can tell the crew what adjustments need to be made – and that data doesn’t just show up as the team’s position on the track. It comes in the form of telemetry: RPM from the car’s tachometer, fuel consumption stats, driver commentary. Then there’s data that comes from outside the car: air temperature, weather changes (cloud cover alone can impact how a car is handling), oil on the race track, etc. That data comes from a variety of sources, but, when put together, allows pit crews to make intelligent, data-driven decisions that improve the chances of winning the race.

It’s very similar to how dashboards help you make decisions that can improve business processes. You want to be sure your workers are as productive as possible. This information comes from a number of data sources across your business (some from your WMS, more from your IT service desk, sprinkle in some from your mobile device population, etc.). When you pull the information you need from across these sources and look at them together, you get the important data you need to make decisions that optimize your business workflows.

Two more similarities: First, speed. You need to be able to access and interpret the data quickly, so powerful visualizations are important so that you can spot trends and make adjustments quickly – just like a crew chief having the data so that he can instruct the pit crew on what adjustments to make to the race car before it arrives on pit road. Second: shared use. Different team members – on the track, and in your business, need different reports from a common mix of data sources to be able to do their job at their very best.

Want to win the race for productivity gains in your business? Take our Xtraction data reporting solution for a test drive. With so many available data connectors, you’ll soon have all the visibility you need to take the lead!

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_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!

What will Mobile Productivity Deliver in 2016?

Drone(own)Drones, M&A activity, a crash in oil prices – these topics and more helped shape 2015 for all of us who work throughout the supply chain. There are always unexpected events that force change in our markets, and certainly the past year hasn’t disappointed. So, as we bid adieu to 2015, it’s time to set our sights on what we might expect in 2016.

  • Device manufacturers set the stage for an Android/Windows decision: Several manufacturers of rugged mobile computers are introducing devices with some skus that run Windows and others that run Android. Android’s share has been growing in our space. The question is: whether a Windows 10 release will slow the momentum, and make some who have been waiting to upgrade, feel confident doing so.
  • Wider deployment of mobility in consumer-facing use cases: It’s been discussed for years, but the choice of larger-screen mobile devices available for store associates to carry on the showroom floor has reached critical mass. Now is the time when retailers will be looking at apps like guided selling and mobile POS to provide an enhanced customer experience.
  • The Internet of Things will get more vertical: Both literally and figuratively. We’ve seen a few examples of IoT in our world – things like robotic warehouse shelving, but as the hype continues, we’ll see some interesting concepts introduced in the coming year. Drones will be part of this. Whether or not you agree, they are part of the IoT. The concepts and use cases for these devices are getting attention.

There are also the numerous surprises that will come during 2016, and we’re looking forward to evaluating these alongside you! What predictions do you have for the mobile productivity space in 2016? Email me with your thoughts and/or wish list for the upcoming year.

Finally, all of us at Wavelink that you for trusting us as your partner for mobile productivity. We wish you all the best for a healthy, happy, and productive 2016!

How to save millions and get years of project cycles back with Velocity

VelocityScreenshot(1)I thought that title might get your attention, but we’ve literally had conversations with companies over the past few months that have done just that!

As businesses look to refresh some of their mobile technology, they’re faced with the challenge of putting far more advanced mobile devices (rugged or consumer) in the hands of workers, but then taking some of the benefit of these devices away by placing previous generation mobile clients on these devices. Though proven technology, these text-heavy mobile clients are not designed for these new mobile computers.

We’ve been speaking to a number of businesses about this over the last few years, and a common situation seems to repeat itself. I’ll summarize one example below:

A 3rd-party logistics provider was acquiring a new generation of mobile devices, replacing legacy Windows CE-based mobile computers (typical for many). They had been running Telnet, but were looking at an app re-write that would update the experience and bring some consistency to their WMS and other supply chain management systems’ mobile interface. However, as they got through scoping their application re-writes, they came to the realization that it would be five years before all the systems would be updated, and well north of $15 million.

App migration is a serious challenge. It’s loaded with risk – you’re modifying or replacing systems that are essentially the backbone of your business. Migration also takes huge amounts of effort, and significant investments (as summarized in the situation above). In many cases, your existing host applications work quite well and it’s only an improved mobile interface you’ll need to get the most out of today’s powerful mobile devices.

That’s exactly the challenge Velocity was designed to solve. Your goal is to maximize the user productivity on the latest mobile hardware. You’re aiming for faster app navigation, an intuitive user interface – a modernized experience through which workers can accomplish tasks. You’re providing workers with a mobile application that improves data accuracy. Best of all, you can deliver this modernized experience without modifying the host applications you’ve made significant investments to optimize.

If you’re heading to NRF2016 in January, stop by our booth #1310 for a Velocity demonstration. I’ll be there, and will be happy to discuss enterprise mobility with you! You’ll also find Velocity in the Zebra Technologies booth #1603 under their All-Touch TE brand.

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!

Add Voice to What You Already Have!


Picking2When warehouse managers start to explore voice enabling tasks, they often start with an inflated project scope. Often times, it’s past research or experiences in previous careers that set this notion. Other times, it’s because they have heard the horror stories from their peers – stories of voice application vendors who have entrenched themselves deep in the Warehouse Management System (WMS) in an attempt to make the two inseparable.  And the project expands from there.  Let’s take a look at the three components you may already have in place and how you can add voice to these existing systems to improve productivity.

Your Host System: The truth is, you can add voice to your warehouse operations without touching your WMS! Here’s the thing: traditional voice apps are designed with a requirement for some host interface software. It’s a relic from an earlier time, when mobile devices couldn’t handle all the voice processing.  However, today’s devices can convert voice-entered data into the same data stream as data captured via barcode scan or keyed entry. Your WMS doesn’t know (nor care) which data was entered via voice. For more on this, check out my previous blog: Four Implementation Costs Traditional Voice App Providers Don’t Want You to Think About

Your Mobile App: So, it’s established that you can add voice and maintain your existing WMS.  Now, for the mobile application: if you’ve already had rugged mobile devices deployed in your warehouse, you’ve probably been using a thin-client app such as Terminal Emulation, or a browser interface to your host system. If you’ve got that in place, there is no need to disrupt what’s been working! You can add voice to that existing application and save significant time and money by voice-enabling that existing application.

Your mobile computers: You might be looking to add voice as part of a refresh of your mobile computers, and if so, that’s going to ensure the added productivity benefits that today’s rugged mobile devices can offer. However, even if you’re aiming to get a few more years out of an existing mobile deployment, you’re in good share. I mentioned above how today’s devices can turn voice-entered data into the same data streams that feed your host system with barcoded or keyed entries. That’s possible because mobile devices released to the market over the past 7-8 years have the processing power to perform all the voice processing right on the device. So, if your current mobile computers are at least as recent as this, you can add voice today, without having to make an investment in new devices.

If you haven’t had a demo of Speakeasy, you haven’t seen how simple it can be to add voice to your existing systems. Request a trial here, and we’ll help you assess your current system readiness and get you started toward greater productivity with voice.

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