Warehouse Automation Management Goes Mobile

Q: Consumer devices, such as smartphones, are becoming more common in warehousing applications. How is the personal wireless space affecting the industrial/commercial wireless space?

A: The form, function, and ease of use industry decision-makers experience when using their personal mobile devices is affecting their expectations of enterprise devices. It is driving demand for smaller and lighter rugged and semi-rugged devices, as well as the desire to use personal consumer devices for enterprise applications. Decision-makers must carefully consider the implications of using consumer devices, as they typically aren’t built to withstand use in challenging environments, leading to higher failure rates and increased downtime.

Q: What types of enterprises are using consumer-grade devices to manage their automation?

A: This shift is occurring in more consumer-facing applications, including retail in-store and healthcare point-of-care. In supply chain applications, a premium is still placed on device security and ruggedness, a factor that is continuing to drive the need for industrial-class mobile devices for workers on the floor or in trucks.

Q: What about other workers in supply chain lines of business?

A: The combination of mobility and PC functionality that a warehouse or fleet supervisor can get from a semi-rugged hand-held or tablet form factor can replace an office PC and allow that supervisor to perform tasks and handle exceptions more efficiently.

There is also greater mobility in other functions, such as quality control, maintenance, and receiving—areas where the worker may previously have had a fixed PC workstation or a laptop. These workers want the whole office at hand, without having to carry a laptop around. Enterprise leaders need to determine whether a rugged or semi-rugged device would deliver a lower total cost of ownership for these applications, or if a consumer-grade device would do.

Q: Will enterprises begin deploying a mix of rugged devices for some workers and consumer devices for others? And does that present a challenge for IT?

A: There’s definitely more diversity in deployed devices. The objective for businesses is to optimize each worker’s productivity at each node along a workflow, by providing the right data capture device for that specific task.

Managing these devices presents a significant challenge for IT. One solution is device management software that is both manufacturer- and operating system-agnostic, allowing Microsoft Windows, Google Android, and Apple iOS devices from any manufacturer to be managed on a single dashboard.

Q: Are some enterprises resistant to this type of "Big Data" deployment?

A: Not really, simply because the technology is so customizable that it’s hard to feel force-fed. The supply chains that don’t have real-time visibility from the point of sale all the way back to the point of manufacture will have difficulty meeting consumer demand. The advice I’d give a business struggling with too many data-capture options is to find a partner who can help optimize each step in their workflow in a way that is scalable and future-proof, and enable them to manage their entire system from a single remote location.

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