The data day

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No matter how sophisticated the supply chain, it is completely dependent on the timely, high quality information captured at key points. Here we look at the issues and trends in data capture systems.

It’s more than 50 years since George Fuechsel coined the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”, but it is every bit as relevant today as supply chains become ever more dependent on IT systems to manage the information that drives them.

Failure to capture data accurately degrades the performance of the whole system, and, if not caught in time, will result in service failures. So it is no surprise that the past few years have seen rapid developments in data capture devices.

And there is no sign of that pace of development flagging. Devices are becoming smaller and more rugged, and, says Terran Churcher, chairman of Codegate, hardware features first seen in the smart phone sector will propagate to the mobile, data capture sector.

Mark Davis, EMEA industry marketing manager at Honeywell Scanning & Mobility, says: “We will see more convergence of functionality into single solutions, such as in-vehicle telematics and mobile computing combined.

“These will be coupled with optical character recognition, GPS, imaging and photography to deliver proof of condition, location, compliance, completion, identification and performance. One device will perform multiple tasks, just as we see in the consumer mobility market, including optimised voice solutions.”

And Steve Binder, senior sales and marketing director at Zetes, points out that devices have become both more specialised and generalised.

“Visually, they have become sleeker and multi-functional – smartphone-like. There has also been a new wave of entry-level devices but greater product variety has changed the way people can interface with devices. For instance there are products which can be worn around the waist with screens and headsets for voice-directed working and wearable back-of-hand scanners to enhanced verification. Very exciting arrivals are the new wireless headsets which will be available imminently because they open up different ways to use voice.”

Binder reckons the biggest change for voice-directed work systems is the arrival of entry-level devices and software products. “These are aimed at smaller business users and light industrial environments and mean logistics operations of almost any size can viably introduce voice.”

Taking advantage of these developments can mean upgrading an existing system or installing an entirely new system. Ebbie Khadem, managing director of Spirit Data Capture, says: “Understanding the current technical requirements as well as any future requirements is key. For example, you may not currently need to take a picture with the system, but this could be important in the future. This will ensure the longevity of the investment in the data capture system.

“Consideration to user training and implementation costs should also be given. There may also be infrastructure costs, such as a Wi-Fi network. The data capture solution should also be covered by a comprehensive hardware support plan. This will also cap the total cost of ownership (TCO).”

David Upton, managing director of DA Systems, points out that from a TCO standpoint it’s not usually cost-effective to upgrade existing mobile hardware as such.

“Another consideration is to look at using a fully managed service that offers pay-as-you-go or leased services (and the latest hardware), thus falling into ongoing operating expenditures. Capital investment can then be more freely directed toward revenue-generating activities. If you rent a service, you are committed to it only as long as you want to use it – giving you real flexibility.

“Rather than adding to the TCO, thanks to the latest generation of rapid programming techniques, fully bespoke applications actually improve it,” says Upton. “Bespoke applications ensure a fit-for-purpose, quickly adopted solution, which when integrated with cloud computing or a fully-managed solution, guarantees that field workers will get the best levels of service from mobile applications. Managed solutions allow availability, resilience, security and scalability of an IT infrastructure that simply would not normally be affordable ‘in-house’ for many organisations, both from purely financial and IT-scale points of view.”

Honeywell’s Mark Davis reckons that an existing device estate upgrade may be heavily impacted if previous accessories, such as docking units, can be re-used. Hardware vendors that recognise the cost benefit of upward and downward compatibility will gain their customers’ trust and loyalty. The natural cost elements include: hardware, software, wireless infrastructure including surveys, accessories, airtime, device management, extended warranty and service, implementation services, and project management.”

However, Terran Churcher warns that: “In today’s competitive environment upgrading existing devices is unlikely to be an option as the installed base will have been ‘sweated’ to the point of being costly. The capital asset value will have been written down to zero but the revenue cost of increasing, and more frequent repairs will begin to outstrip the depreciation cost, making retention a false economy. The cost of implementing new data capture technology should return the investment within 12-18 months.”

And Nigel Doust, chief executive of Blackbay, points     to research by VDC which shows that the average annual TCO of a ruggedised small form factor device is $2,355 (£1,500) – 34 per cent lower than the average annual TCO of a non-rugged small form factor device. Average failure rates for rugged small form factor devices was 7.9 per cent and 13.7 per cent for non-rugged small form factor devices. On average, mobile workers lost 50-80 minutes of productivity when their mobile device failed. Productivity loss represented as much as 41 per cent of a mobile device’s TCO.

Achieving an acceptable return on investment is always going to be the acid test and Zetes’s Steve Binder reckons it can vary from six months to a year depending on the devices, methods of integration and existing processes being improved. The return rate also depends on the customer’s starting point. If they are looking for incremental benefits to an existing RF system the improvement may not be so immediately dramatic as if they were going from a non-automated operation to one that is fully automated for instance.”

Upton says: “Users widely understand it in terms of the anticipated benefits a mobile-data capture project brings to an organisation, with ROI expectations of around 12 months… What isn’t always apparent is the step-change that some of today’s mobile-data solutions can bring to an ROI. The ROI acceleration is shown primarily through business operations and customer service. The highest levels of service can now be delivered through bespoke mobile applications that actually adapt according to job role, device, location or contract, allowing over-the-air updates, minimising non-productive time and changing according to the prevailing business requirements.”

Rugged technology
Intermec has launched the 70 Series of rugged mobile computers comprising four distinct products sharing a common platform and capabilities – CN70 (field service, transport and logistics), CN70e (direct store delivery/route accounting), CK70 (parcel delivery in courier, express and postal operations) and CK71 (manufacturing and warehousing). The 70 Series uses Windows Embedded Handheld and features a new EA30 2D scan engine, with motion tolerance performance and an advanced aiming system. It also has a third generation EX25 near-far scan engine which increases the distance and velocity of data capture.

Other features include 802.11n dual-band WLAN – enabling better connectivity and communication for mobile workers; plus a six-foot drop spec across all temperatures, IP67 sealing, Gorilla glass touch panel, and indestructible keypad technology.

DataBar for Visidot
Visidot, Zetes’ data capture system, now supports GS1 Databar, a barcode launched by GS1 at the beginning of 2010, which is smaller and can store more information than the traditional EAN/UPC barcode.

The GS1 DataBar is useful for identifying small or hard-to-mark items such as fresh foods and pharmaceuticals, because of its ability to store additional information like serial numbers, lot numbers, and expiration dates. Existing Visidot readers can be upgraded to support DataBar.

Gerrit-Jan Steenbergen of Zetes says: “We expect a growing number of companies, which use laser scanners in their logistics for instance, to shift to this new identifier.”

Real time Falcon
Datalogic has launched the Falcon X3 providing real time data capture and communication. It is available with either laser scanner or 2D imager and is packaged with Windows CE or Windows Mobile 6.5.

The Falcon uses dual processor architecture for higher performance. It resists drops from six feet and has IP64 level sealing to protect the unit from dust and liquids.

Bill Parnell, chief executive of Datalogic Mobile, said: “Datalogic Mobile is known for blending performance and ergonomics – features our users want and the new Falcon X3 delivers.”

Musgrave Wholesale picks Belgravium
Musgrave Wholesale, the Irish cash and carry wholesaler chose Belgravium to provide them with a real time stock check solution.

Meeting the needs of unaffiliated independent retailers and food service professionals is a key part of the Musgrave business model. The Musgrave approach is to co-create brands with their retail partners, and equip them with the sales, marketing, IT, finance and logistical expertise that come with the most advanced retail model.

Belgravium helped create an application that could work with the varying layouts of the barcodes from their multiple suppliers, something they hadn’t previously been able to do. The solution uses Belgravium’s “Rugged by Design” Atlanta 8000 Series handheld, providing stock visibility in addition to “Rugged by Design” data capture hardware -designed to survive harsh environments.

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