01/28/2016

Scandit - Revolutionizing Data Capture (Blog Part 1)

Businesses no longer rely exclusively on purpose-built scanning solutions to capture information from barcodes, which are now synonymous to enterprise supply chain operations such as asset identification, visibility, and track-and-trace. Since the launch of smartphones and other camera-enabled consumer mobile computing devices in the last decade or so, several application developers have also empowered consumers to know more about their purchases, thereby helping them make informed decisions and elevating their levels of engagement. There is now an installed base of more than 1 billion smartphones and hundreds of millions of tablets. VDC’s research shows that the data capture industry is expanding its footprint to now proactively leverage the capabilities of these powerful computing devices by introducing solutions that enable enterprise-grade performance on these smartphones and tablets. Not only are these solutions helping consumers and small businesses to take greater advantage of barcode scanning functionality, but they are enabling large enterprises to mobilize a higher percentage of their workforce and workflows, and also supporting them in their endeavor to take advantage of the BYOD (bring your own device) trend.
 
New and emerging solution providers, including independent software vendors like Scandit, are changing the way the world views barcode scanning and devices that enable the same. Enterprise investments in smartphones/tablets in support of line-of-business workers’ everyday operations across various industry verticals are not ad-hoc anymore. More organizations in field service, logistics, and retail are now proactively evaluating and even making investments in widely available consumer device and rugged smartphone/tablet options, choosing these over purpose-built data capture solutions.
 
Consumer smart device adoption is not restricted to any specific section of users; there is a range of smartphones and tablets available across a broad spectrum of price points, making these very accessible regardless of an individual or business’ financial status, industry, or region. Historically, barcode scanning using these devices has been a cumbersome process requiring significant camera alignment and barcode label re-positioning to enable data capture. Now software platforms like the one by Scandit have made barcode scanning using regular smartphones and tablet a relatively easy undertaking. VDC believes the opportunity is particularly ripe in retail establishments for apparel, grocery, and specialty goods (like furniture and electronics) for inventory management, clienteling, mPOS, and self-shopping applications, as well as in other commercial centers such as field sales and service to help facilitate order entry, asset tracking, picking, proof-of-delivery, and fulfillment applications. Businesses across all tier levels want to capitalize on these devices’ high availability, ease of use, intuitiveness, and user familiarity to facilitate end-to-end data capture functionality.
 
Scandit’s Barcode Scanner SDK for iOS, Android, and Windows among other platforms, enables the camera on smart devices to capture barcode information from any angle, offering high read rates and high levels of scanning efficiency. The company licenses its barcode scanner platform to hundreds of customers around the globe, and its solutions are used across all major verticals. From a technical standpoint, Scandit’s Barcode Scanner SDK is constantly evolving and improving to support enhanced scanning capabilities equipped to support a broad range of barcode symbologies so it can compete with purpose-built OEM imager scan engines developed by AIDC industry veterans. Decode speeds, processing times, performance in highly variable light conditions, and motion tolerance may vary from purpose-built engines, however, features like omnidirectional data and image capture, high density barcode scanning, and blurry/damaged barcode decoding are all made available to Scandit’s user base.
 
Scandit BusDev Opps
 
As part of the primary research process for the recently-published Scandit-focused white paper (download here), VDC interviewed several end-user organizations with existing investments in Scandit’s technology, including its Barcode Scanner SDK and Enterprise Solutions that use the platform to enable enterprise-grade barcode scanning using their end-to-end mobile applications. These conversations highlighted the various different types of market development opportunities available to Scandit, be it the use of consumer devices for barcode scanning by a contractor-based workforce mobilizing their workflows, or consumers using their personal devices to support self-shopping applications, or even large, distributed organizations enabling order entry and traceability via Scandit-powered apps.
 
You can download this White Paper here. Our next blog will focus on VDC’s outlook for Scandit’s future and what lies ahead for the company.

01/22/2016

NRF 2016 Big Takeaway: Retailers to put an emphasis back on the store (Part 2)

(Continued on from Part 1 of our NRF 2016 highlights blog)

Honeywell

Honeywell, an AIDC veteran, this year introduced a range of solutions which showcased its strong initiative behind the Honeywell User Experience. Focusing on the user’s requirements and maximizing businesses’ productivity, the company showcased a number of mobile computing, scanning and printing solutions this year at NRF. For scanning, Honeywell introduced the 1602G companion scanner, the Solaris 7820 stationary scanner (aimed at the growing SMB space), as well as two new wireless voyager pistol grip scanners – the 1202G and 1452G. In addition, the company continues to see success of its Youjie brand of scanning solutions and plans to expand its product line to new emerging markets beyond China in 2016. For printing, following the same initiative of customer centric design, the company introduced the Honeywell PC42t is a light industrial label printer developed for price sensitive emerging markets in Asia and around the world. An additional observation, is Honeywell’s greater emphasis around software solutions and leveraging some of its existing software assets – particularly from its Vocollect solutions – to address a broader scope of workforce management requirements. The emphasis here will be on better understand the performance of individual workers and the opportunity to identify and address potential bottlenecks and performance issues.

Opticon

Opticon Inc. is an auto ID and data capture vendor that is well known for its prominent 1D laser and 2D imager scan engines. One of the earliest players in the mobile barcode scanning space, the company this year showcased a range of companion scanning solutions including its new Bluetooth ring scanning accessory and a pair of new scan engines - the MDI3100 (Imager) and the MCD200 (CCD). In addition, the company showcased its color digital signage and electronic shelf labeling (ESL) solutions.

Infinite Peripherals

Infinite Peripherals, a leading mobile scanning/mobile peripherals solutions provider showcased its full line of scanning and payment capture solutions at NRF 2016 as well as introducing its new Mobile POS solution line of mobile scanners including the Infinea mPOS sled, the Infinea mPOS flat, and its Omni kiosk solution. The company has had a successful 2015 serving major companies including United and JetBlue and the introduction of its mPOS line of solutions will continue to drive growth for a company that is riding the growing consumer device adoption in the enterprise space. The company also highlighted its Device Management platform through which businesses can monitor devices and metrics such as battery life and use through a dashboard, the solution will appeal to companies, especially those who are concerned about the ROI of their investments in the store.

Intelligrated

Intelligrated, a major material handling solutions provider this year showcased how the efficiency of the warehouse can be brought to the inside of the store. Key offerings demonstrated at NRF such as its Intelligrated voice solutions and Labor Management System, highlighted how technologies in the warehouse such as voice can be used in store for order fulfillment by store associate for application such as click and collect. In addition, with analytics being a major theme this year across companies, Intelligrated’s LMS solution is flexible to be used for the warehouse or retail to track employee performances and enhance workforce productivity in both the front and the back of the store.

Scandit

Founded in 2009, Scandit is a mobile image processing and cloud computing software vendor. This year at NRF the company highlighted its Scandit applications which leverage its patented SDK to improve workflows in the front and back of the retail. Applications such as its inventory management, asset tracking and clienteling applications enable retailers to leverage intuitive consumer devices to enhance the productivity its employees. In addition, the company introduced its Scandit Case, a rugged peripheral which enables forward facing scanning to create an all in one solution for customers to use without concerns about dropping the device by mistake. The case is able to achieve forward facing scanning by redirecting the smartphone camera and LED light for illumination, aiming and image capture. The case has no additional electronic components but has a dedicated button to press for barcode scanning.

Zebra

Zebra Technologies is a global leader in the auto ID and data capture solutions market. At NRF 2016, Zebra showcased solutions to make businesses more productive and connected than ever before. From a data capture perspective, Zebra showcased its latest personal shopping solution, the MC18 and its new RFD8500 RFID/1D/2D scanning sled.

The MC18 is for consumer applications such as self-checkout, special offers, and price checks. For sales associates, the PSS can be used for inventory management, price checks, stock look-ups, and queue busting. Zebra’s PSS solution can scan 1D and 2D barcodes and are connected through wireless 802.11n for real-time information and data transfer enabling retailer to engage customer preferences, and tastes to increase cart size and sales.

The RFID/1D/2D scanning sled is Zebra’s first universal scanning sled to enable both barcode and RFID scanning for select Zebra and consumer-grade mobile devices, tablets, and smart phones. The sled is available with just RFID or RFID and Imager so users can easily switch between RFID and barcode scanning modes with the tap of a button. With retailers today carrying a range of both RFID tags and Barcode labels in store, the RFD8500 is a flexible solution engaging the changing needs of the retail space today.

Finally, Zebra Technologies showcased its Bluetooth beacon solution for customer engagement and analytics called the MPact platform. The MPact Customer Experience solution utilizes beacon technology to engage customers via their smartphones and other Bluetooth enabled devices for a more personalized and engaging customer experience. Retailers can use the solution to push deals, offers and personalized messages to customers while also gaining insight into store metrics surrounding customer preferences and habits.

NRF 2016 Big Takeaway: Retailers to put an emphasis back on the store (Part 1)

There was a buzz at the 2016 NRF event in New York City where retailers and their solution vendor partners talked about their growing focus on the retail storefront. E-commerce is certainly contributing to a higher percentage of overall sales and deserves the attention from an investment and operational enhancement standpoint; at the same time, however, it will continue to be critical for retailers to enhance customer experience, increase sales, and improve associate productivity in brick-and-mortar establishments. This is all with an aim of giving customers a consistent experience regardless of their retail touchpoint-of-choice.

Retailers are looking at ways to drive success inside the store, evaluating and adopting technologies needed to differentiate in a very competitive environment. AIDC industry veterans – Honeywell, Zebra, Datalogic and NCR – all introduced new scanning solutions expanding their product portfolios, geared at the shifting retail environment. In addition, mobile solutions such as mobile barcode scanners and mPOS solutions are enabling retailers to capitalize on the BYOD trend and consumer grade device deployment in the enterprise. Solutions by Koamtac, Infinite Peripherals as well as Ingenico sought to highlight the growing market for such solutions.

In addition to customer engagement and work flow productivity, NRF 2016 gave rise to increased attention on data analytics and gaining valuable insights from metric captured in the store. Companies including Checkpoint, Tyco, Zebra and others shone the spotlight on new analytics platforms and dashboards which leverage data captured from inside the store to better understand customer shopping habits and preferences while also enhancing productivity of associates in the store.

Finally, retailers are focused on not only attracting customers back to the store but also enhancing their experience there. Companies such as Zebra and Datalogic showcased their in-store personal shopping solutions, which allow customers to carry out self-scanning for faster checkout and fetch improved offers. In addition, VDC also saw an emphasis placed on innovative displays such as Samsung’s transparent display from its SMART Signage portfolio and Opticon’s color digital signage and electronic shelf labeling (ESL) solutions which enhance the customer experience by updating deals and prices in real time as well as provide better visibility into store inventory.

VDC’s analysts this year got a sneak-peek into some of the most innovative solutions available today for retailers to drive valuable change to their businesses. VDC’s observations from some of our meetings at NRF are summarized in 2 blog posts:

Datalogic

Datalogic this year showcased a number of new solutions at NRF including products and solutions in the areas of item recognition, high speed imaging, self-shopping, automated scanning, loss prevention solutions, and mobile scanning. Highlighting its latest scanning solutions, the company introduced its newest line of companion scanners the DBT6400. Available in 3 variations for the retail and healthcare markets the pocket sized Bluetooth companion scanners can pair with any smart device and utilize Datalaogic’s newest OEM linear engine for 1D, 2D barcode scanning and Image capture. In addition, with this year’s theme focusing on workflows inside of the store, Datalogic showcased its latest Joya Personal Shopping System solution which was introduced in April 2015. The 4.3” touch centric device offer wireless charging and wireless communication and are available in handheld or pistol grip form factors. The biggest highlight from Datalogic this year was its new linear Imager scan engine which is capable of capturing both 1D and 2D barcodes, a key development for Datalogic as it looks to lessen its reliance on third party scan engines and target potential OEM opportunities. Late to develop a Android-powered rugged handheld device, Datalogic did announce a 5” device available in early 2016.

Digimarc

Digimarc this year dedicated its booth to highlighting its major partnerships going into 2016 covering vendors, retailers, manufactures and organizations. The company has partnered with all major AIDC data capture vendors including Honeywell, Zebra Technologies, Datalogic and NCR. Its relationship with Wegmans continues as more of its private label products are encoded with Digimarc’s invisible ink technology. Although the mountain facing Digimarc remains formidable the progress is has made over the past several years is impressive. The company’s recently announced relationship with GS1 to provide education, training and access to services to foster the adoption of Digimarc's barcode technology brings with it additional credibility – although both were quick to point out that Digimarc was not a GS1 standard (the technology would need to be open source for that to occur). One concern that we did hear from some testing the technology is that the scanning performance of Digimarc’s code against an all white background/package does decrease.  The company also introduced its new Digimarc Discover app, capable of scanning 1D, 2D as well as the Digimarc barcode through the built in cameras of smart devices.

 Click here for part 2 of our NRF 2016 highlights blog

01/20/2016

The Warehouse of the Future

What are the technologies defining the warehouse of tomorrow?

Warehouses and distribution centers are increasingly playing a critical role in generating supply chain efficiencies across industries like pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, retail, and fashion, leading to companies such as Amazon and DHL to look for new ways to support their growing warehouse operations through solutions such as robotic picking systems and augmented reality. As such material handling, data capture, order fulfillment, and software technologies are evolving to align with organizations’ vision of the warehouse of the future.

Organizations today are facing a growing number of market pressures to optimize their warehouse. Pressures of faster order fulfillment, error costs, lack of space, and increasing labor costs are just some of the major hurdles organizations today have to cross in a fast evolving industry to remain competitive. Consumers’ access to non-traditional retail channels has transformed logistics, perhaps forever. Operations in the warehouse are transitioning from the traditional pallet level and going smaller into individual item level fulfillment and with it pressures of faster fulfillment and order accuracy. The cost of a single error and its negative impact on customer service is so much more elevated in today’s age of e-commerce and omni-channel retailing. If inaccuracy, delays, and other problems occur, it can lead to customer dissatisfaction, which can result in lost profits for the company.

Exhibit: Expanding Labor Force and Warehouse Establishments

Warehouse & Labor scaled

The number of private warehouse establishments in the US alone has risen to 16,556 in 2015 and so has the labor force. As costs and competition continue to rise, decision-makers are constantly looking for new ways to reduce their expenses while addressing the changing needs of the consumer and market.

Technologies such as AR and Robotics have evolved immensely over the last decade and are seeing greater success and deployment in recent years. Below we highlight some of the major technologies which will be shaping the warehouse of the future:

  • Material Handling Solutions: Warehouses are running out of space fast and require a more productive workforce than ever. Automation systems including ASRS and Order sortation systems are just some of solutions taking on more modular and flexible designs in order to address these growing concerns.
  • Data Capture: Real-time visibility will be a key competitive differentiator and with greater deployments of data capture technologies such as imaging solutions for quality checks, barcode scanning, and dimensioning systems for cubing of the items for high density storage and transportation, decision makers can make better informed decisions and manage their resources.
  • Wearables: Wearables are slowly gaining mainstream attention. Augmented reality and voice technology are seeing successful trials across warehouses supporting processes in order fulfillment and beyond.
  • Robotics & AGV: Driven by a need for greater automation, solutions for palletizing, depalletizing, ASRS, and AGVs are being used to a greater extent today to support warehouse operations around the world. The introduction of individual item picking/packing robots could result in wider adoption in the warehouse space in the future especially as advanced capabilities are brought to market at relatively more affordable price points.

The warehouse of the future will be one that can support the fulfillment needs for multiple channels including brick and mortar, wholesale, home deliveries, and parcel shipments, often simultaneously. Organizations risk falling behind and losing the competitive edge if they do not look to solutions available today that can prepare them for future customer needs and market place.

VDC’s Warehouse of the Future report covers industry trends, market insights (leading applications, drivers, and barriers), and in-depth vendor analysis, and it highlights innovations in solutions across the warehouse and logistics industry.

For more information and insights on this report, please feel free to download the Executive Brief and contact us to learn how to gain access to the full report.

Written by Shahroze Husain and Richa Gupta. For more information, be sure to review our full Warehouse of the Future report or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com. The author can be contacted directly at shusain@vdcresearch.com

12/02/2015

New Report: Mobile Barcode Scanners – Shaping the Future of the Data Capture Industry

(VDC recently published a report focused on Mobile Barcode Scanners. The following blog highlights some of our thoughts on this market and its potential.)

The data capture industry is constantly changing. Handheld barcode scanning is no longer restricted to traditional pistol grip form factors or rugged mobile devices as pairing or integrating scanners with consumer devices is increasingly becoming a popular option for organizations’ barcode scanning applications. Capitalizing on growing smartphone adoption in the enterprise space, new and emerging hardware vendors such as Infinite Peripherals & Koamtac and non-traditional ISV participants like Scandit and Manatee Works (now part of Cognex) are challenging AIDC incumbents by bringing data capture technology to a wider audience in new ways.

As retail, logistics, and health care organizations face growing pressures to support vital workforce operations, improve customer experiences and improve productivity, consumer smart device-based solutions such as companion scanners, sleds, and barcode scanning software platforms are being evaluated as viable solutions to replace or be deployed alongside traditional purpose-built devices. The following are short descriptions of mobile scanning form factors that are available in the market.

  • Companion scanners: Small form-factor barcode scanners that pair with other devices via Bluetooth/Wi-Fi.
  • Sleds: Peripherals that encase and enable consumer-grade smart devices for enterprise- grade scanning.
  • Personal Shopping Solutions: Mobile computer solutions that are used by consumers for shopping in store.
  • Software platforms: Software development kits that enable consumer-grade smart devices to use their built-in cameras for enterprise-grade barcode scanning

Exhibit: Respondents’ Plans to Replace Purpose-built Scanners with Mobile Scanning Devices

Exhibit 2

According to results from VDC’s recent survey of mobile scanner end users and evaluators, 63% of organizations are considering replacing their purpose-built scanner investments with mobile scanners for daily operations. Respondents surveyed across retail, logistics, and health care are currently evaluating the option to deploy mobile scanning solutions to support daily operations. Consumer smartphone-based scanning solutions are also gaining consideration in the enterprise space as companies evaluate BYOD policies and alternatives to traditional purpose-built scanners. However, while mobile scanners do make barcode scanning available to a wider audience and broader range of applications, concerns related to initial investments and deployment costs remain.

VDC believes that mobile scanners are just about starting to present growth potential; application development will play a major role in sustaining long-term business development for vendors in the mobile scanning ecosystem, creating apps for enterprise uses cases and extending vendors’ products to wider audiences. Distributors with vertical expertise and a strong application developer network will be key components to success, since vendors must differentiate themselves from competitors and establish strong brand images.

Mobile scanner vendors profiled as part of this report – Amazon.com, Code, Datalogic, Grabba International, Hiku, Honeywell, Infinite Peripherals, Koamtac, Opticon (OptoElectronics Co. Ltd.), Scandit, Socket Mobile, and Zebra Technologies

For more information and insights on this report, please feel free to download the Executive Brief and contact us to learn how to gain access to the full report.

Written by Shahroze Husain and Richa Gupta. For more information, be sure to review our full mobile scanning report- Mobile Barcode Scanners or contact us at info@vdcresearch.com.The author can be contacted directly at shusain@vdcresearch.com

11/13/2015

Zebra Technologies beats EPS but integration to come at a higher cost

Zebra Technologies reported its Q3 2015 earnings on November 10th beating analysts’ EPS estimates by $0.16 while missing on revenue by $2.22 million. The company’s revenues grew 3% from Q2 2015. Net sales of $916.27 million for the quarter included $605.1 million contributed by the Enterprise business unit acquired from Motorola Solutions, a 5.6% increase from Q3 2014. Zebra’s legacy business (including barcode printers, card printers, consumables, location services) accounted for $314 million, up from $303.3 million in Q3 2014. The company’s gross margin now stands at 45.2% for the first 3 quarters in 2015, down from 50% for 2014; this is reflective of rebranding of legacy Motorola product, the change in product mix and the contribution of Enterprise solutions to the overall revenues, which tend to have a lower margin than legacy Zebra products. Although Zebra managed to exceed analyst expectations in EPS estimates, company shares have fallen almost 12% since the Q3 earnings release.

Here are some key insights from the company’s 2015 third quarter performance. 

  • Zebra experienced a strong quarter for its data capture business unit driven by the increasing migration from 1D to 2D imagers and it plans to build on this momentum by actively engaging its installed client base. In addition, Zebra’s printing business experienced continued growth which was driven by the increased sales of table top and desktop printers.
  • OS migration continues to play a major role in driving sales growth this year as Android-based mobile computer sales have increased by 170% through September this year in comparison to the same time period last year.
  • North American sales were flat quarter on quarter with 3% growth. The company accomplished a number of new wins for mobile computers in retail and manufacturing engaging the Tier 2 & 3 markets. Growth for data capture came from Zebra’s scan engine business as more organizations transition and upgrade their scanning solutions to 2D imagers and the printing business continues to generate growth with the increased sales of tabletop and desktop printers. Zebra’s Latin America business was the only region to experience a decline this quarter with a 16% decline as a result of difficult currency and microeconomics challenges. The company plans to reengage the market once the regional economy improves. 
  • EMEA sales were stable at 3% this quarter as anticipated with typical European slowdown during summers, in contrast to the unusually strong Q3 in 2014. Zebra’s price increase back in April 2015 appears to have had limited impact on European demand as the company achieved new wins across retail, manufacturing and government sectors.  Sales remained strong for mobile computers in Europe with Germany and UK leading the way while the company saw a slowdown (even decline) in parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe due to geopolitical reasons.
  • Asia Pacific led the way for most year-over-year growth with 23% in the quarter. In Asia, Zebra’s Enterprise division experienced strong sales in China, India, and Southeast Asia. The company saw success in the retail space for its mobile computing and data capture solutions driven by e-commerce adoption and upgrades. Increased sales of desktop printers to the healthcare and T&L verticals contributed to the positive growth for the printer business in Asia.
  • The company continues to gain traction with e-commerce, mobility and OS transition leading the way for growth. Hardware upgrades and e-commerce have driven retail sales growth for both mobile computers and scanners. Printer sales were also strong as desktop printers saw increased deployment across health care and T&L verticals. Ongoing printer hardware refresh at some of Zebra’s largest clients is also a key growth driver.
  • Zebra will continue to spend a substantial amount on integration and synergy operations. The company has expects synergy related expenses to increase to $180 million - $200 million which would see the company through to 2017 in its efforts to reduce costs and perform as one complete unit. Acquisition and integration related costs were $42.7 million this quarter, an increase from $35.2 million in 2014. As a part of its ongoing integration efforts, Zebra has carried out the removal of hundreds of Enterprise IT applications and Motorola service agreement items and is now focusing on the implementation of a companywide IT infrastructure and transitioning the Enterprise business onto Zebra Systems.  

With additional cost savings and cost controls being implemented, Zebra expects its positive growth to continue and plan to end on a high note in the fourth quarter. The company expects total revenues in the range of $945 million to $975 million. Zebra Technologies’ executive leadership is confident in its market standing and optimistic about market opportunities for the remainder of 2015.

Like we’ve mentioned in our previous posts, Zebra has its work cut out for it from a distribution and execution standpoint and needs to manage expectations via well-crafted messaging to both partners and customers. We will continue to follow the company’s progress and keep our readers updated.

(with Richa Gupta, Senior Analyst)

11/09/2015

AutoID Market Shakeup: TSC Acquires Printronix’s Thermal Printer Business

Leading barcode printer vendor TSC AutoID Technology (TSC) announced on November 9 that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the thermal printing business of Printronix, a company focused on serving the industrial supply chain with its rugged, high-performance thermal label printer product line. This acquisition is expected to close in January 2016. I find this development equal parts interesting and refreshing. It has been a while since the market saw an acquisition by a vendor other than one of the AIDC conglomerates (Datalogic, Honeywell, Zebra Technologies, and the former Motorola Solutions).

TSC had a strong 2014, as indicated in VDC’s recently published 2015 Stationary Thermal Barcode Printers report, and has grown at consistently high rates in recent years while also outperforming overall market growth. The company is an especially strong competitor to Honeywell, SATO, Toshiba TEC, and Zebra Technologies in the Asian market. While TSC has made some headway into EMEA in recent months, its performance in the Americas left much to be desired. This will change with its Printronix acquisition as this vendor earns 90% of its revenues from the Americas and Europe. Printronix exclusively targets application environments in the industrial supply chain with its line of thermal label printers. The company had a lackluster 2014 in terms of sales growth, but saw a leadership change early in 2015 and started laying the groundwork for a new approach to building channel relationships. It is making its way into the low-end industrial market with its entry-level T2N series, priced aggressively at less than $1,000 for the 203dpi model. The company also recently released its second portable printer, M4L2, which is designed for use in industrial and warehousing environments. All of its recent investments prove its commitment to differentiating its product line from both Honeywell and Zebra. Printronix is also the only vendor that offers industrial label printers with in-line verification capability, giving the vendor a distinct advantage over its peers in industries like retail with strict labeling compliance requirements.

Market consolidation and over-distribution has given way to pent-up frustration with what is viewed as weak qualification criteria for premier partnership status especially as channel organizations look to enter/exit deals on a profitable note same as hardware vendors. With Printronix, TSC will now be able to take advantage of the company’s defensible niche position in the industrial label printer market. I expect more systems integrators and solution providers – including Lowry Solutions, Peak-Ryzex, and Supply Chain Services – to now seek out a partnership with TSC with an aim to broaden their solution offerings and include newer brands as part of the portfolio, especially if they can get better price exceptions and deals while also meeting unique customer requirements in the industrial supply chain with all-in-one products.

10/22/2015

NFL Roundup: Zebra Technologies Makes a Big Play in Pro Sports with Embedded Sensors in Jerseys

With the 2015 NFL season underway, coaches, analysts, and fantasy football fans are hungry for the latest and most accurate stats for making vital decisions on and off the field. The NFL looks to have found an answer. Enter Motionworks by Zebra Technologies’ Sports Solutions Division. Created by the company’s Location Solutions group, Motionworks is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking system which aims to bring better accuracy and insight into player performances than ever before. RFID systems have traditionally been used to track and trace items throughout the supply chain to enhance overall operational efficiencies but now the NFL and Zebra are tapping into this technology to create a better Football experience.

  Motionworks

Image Source: Zebra Technologies

Zebra’s Motionworks system is an Active RFID Real Time Locate System (RTLS) which uses tags and receivers to track the players’ performances. Players have two tags embedded under their shoulder pads, which emit a unique electromagnetic wave frequency in order to differentiate each player on the field. The frequencies are collected by multiple receivers to triangulate each player position and then stored in datahubs. The data is instantly analyzed using an advanced algorithm and presented to users who are able to see player location and on-field performance in real time. NFL and Zebra present the data as Next Gen Stats, which includes performance analytics like player speed profiles, fitness graphs, play by play running routes, and more. Motionworks RFID player tracking system uses multiple unique RFID tags that are processed simultaneously and quickly by the receivers with very little energy and do not require tags to be in the line of sight allowing uninterrupted data collection. The system is used by all 32 NFL teams and is implemented across 31 stadiums, including London’s Wembley stadium, where six teams are set to play during the 2015 season.

Pic2 motionworks

Image Source: Zebra Technologies

We would not be surprised to see Zebra extend its reach with the Motionworks solution to other major sports and leagues, with stat-intensive sports such as Soccer and Basketball likely targets. Current alternatives to this solution in the market include Opta and Matrics. Used by Barclays Premier League in England, the World Rugby Cup, the Copa America, and the T20 Cricket league, Opta relies on global collection centers where local experts analyze video footage and information to provide up-to date stats of players and games. Opta’s data is used by some of the biggest media, channels, betting sites, teams and brands. The other big analytics provider is Matrics which is officially used by FIFA. Matrics utilizes three HD cameras to recognize all the players, referees and soccer ball on the field. The system tracks the coordinates of the objects between the three cameras and the data is relayed to the work center where analysts analyze the data and footage. Both Opta and Matrics mainly provide halftime analysis and post-game analysis due to camera based solutions requiring analysts to view video footage first and then recording statistics. In contrast, for Motionworks there is no lag between the data collected from the tags and the stats being broadcast. Looking ahead, Zebra plans to release tags in 2015 that will contain both RFID and Bluetooth communication technology enabling the integration of physiological sensing technologies such as heart monitors with real-time data transmission.

Motionworks differs from these camera-based systems in that it does not require cameras for analysis and its software can be overlayed on video to show real-time stats. This RFID technology brings a new dimension to the game with instant data communication and accuracy. Currently Zebra Technologies offers potential Motionworks clients a number of additional services including implementation and optimization of all hardware, gameday operations and maintenance to ensure 100% system performance, and analytics using its Time-Difference of Arrival algorithm (TDOA) application. This algorithm records the time of arrival of a distinct RFID signal from a player’s tag at separate receivers around the stadium. It then uses the time references of the signals to calculate the location, speed and direction of travel of the player throughout plays in real-time.

VDC believes Zebra Technologies can work with solution partners and sports governing bodies to offer its data collection and analysis platform to a broad range of application environments including:

  • Educational Institutions –Provide the Motionworks tracking solutions to schools, colleges and universities to be used by their respective sports teams and to organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Schools can use Motionworks like the NFL to track player performances in practice and in games and use the data for team and player improvement.   
  • Media and Broadcasters –media outlets, print media and sporting magazines can approach Zebra for its analytics platform to gain access to data feed services and widgets.
  • Gaming– with betting and the fantasy sports market growing, gaming organizations can use Zebra’s Motionworks analytics platforms to access accurate player stats and live data feed which they can use and integrate into their sites.

In addition, with its expertise in autoID and data capture solutions Zebra has the potential to engage the growing consumer market for fitness wearables and smart watches in the future by developing tracking sensors for athletic apparels and consumer devices such as the Fitbit and Jawbone Up. Consumer devices such as the Fitbit are popularly used for tracking health-related information such as sleep cycles, heart rate and steps travelled. Some models utilize NFC technology to communicate data quickly over to other NFC-enabled devices. NFC technology is a subset of RFID and operates via the same frequency as High Frequency RFID tags and readers. According to a recent interview by Zebra CEO Anders Gustaffson, the company has held discussions with athletic clothing manufacturers about potential partnerships to bring sensing and tracking technologies to their apparel lines. There is an opportunity for the company to partner with manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor to produce smart clothing and wearables through the development of tracking technology which can measure movements and communicate between smart apparels and devices anywhere without the need for dedicated receivers. In its current iteration, Zebra's Motionworks technology is restricted to usage in a defined space (it requires both receivers and tags to measure movement), which it makes it unsuitable for consumer wearables that can measure movement anywhere and transmit data via Bluetooth and/or NFC. However, VDC believes this market represents a tremendous opportunity for Zebra going forward.

Ultimately, Motionworks looks to be the next big step in sports analytics and Zebra Technologies’ entrance into the sports industry displays the company’s versatility as a data capture solutions provider. The company has already expanded to sports beyond the NFL including Nascar and Soccer and has plans to add more to the mix.

(With Richa Gupta, Senior Analyst)

10/09/2015

Socializing the AIDC World

(VDC breaks down AIDC solution providers’ use of social media and outlines best practices for success - download Executive Brief)

AIDC solution providers mentioned in this report - Barcoding Inc., Barcodes Inc., Cognex, Datalogic, Honeywell Scanning & Mobility (now part of Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions), Lowry Solutions, SICK AG, System ID, Wasp Barcode, and Zebra Technologies

Social media continues to be a relatively under-explored and under-utilized avenue for digital marketing within the AIDC community. In our bid to transform how AIDC solution providers use social media platforms, VDC just published a report on current usage trends and statistics along with detailed insight into best practices that can help them achieve their objectives for social media engagement. The report focuses on four platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube – and 10 AIDC solution providers’ presence, outreach, content generation consistence, and engagement on each. VDC believes each chosen organization is influential in the AIDC space due to their technology and market development and their established presence on one or more social media platforms.

(The chart below highlights Engagement Rate statistics for 10 data capture solution providers, part of VDC's latest social media-focused report.)

Engagement rate aidc social media

Leading vendors are starting to take steps by hiring talent exclusively dedicated to managing content creation for these platforms and having targeted, specific, and measurable goals outlined for social media engagement. While short-term returns associated with social media activities may be limited, consistently posting the right type of content for the target audience (on each individual platform) will help generate an attractive ROI – in terms of (potential) lead generation and higher levels of engagement (with customers, partners, and employees).

We explore these themes in the Social Media report and also talk about the opportunity in front of AIDC solution providers to extend their reach and enhance their levels of engagement on these popular social media platforms. While this report is available to existing clients for free, non-clients can download this Executive Brief and contact us to learn how they can access the full report.

09/03/2015

Barcode Scanner Vendors Entering Consumers’ Homes? Looks Like We’re Almost There!

What is the next step in the evolution of the barcode scanner market? Are vendors going to be restricted to B2B transactions or is there a potential consumer device opportunity for them here? In this blog post, VDC will focus its attention on two at-home scanning devices – Hiku Labs’ Hiku and Amazon’s Amazon Dash (both the wand and the button).

Hiku, an in-home barcode scanning solution designed by Silicon Valley startup Hiku Labs, is a 1D barcode scanner with a built-in microphone to help consumers build grocery and shopping lists. The product can be used at home to generate these lists by either scanning barcodes on everyday items or speaking into the device. It was first introduced to the market in October 2013 and is compatible with both Android and iOS.

What VDC finds particularly interesting is that Hiku’s executive team considers this to be a reference design or proof-of-concept while placing more value in the “smarts” built into the device (as opposed to the hardware itself). This start-up is open to having OEMs build devices that leverage its cloud-based platform, which includes barcode lookup, voice transcription, and data synchronization. Its platform enables users to scan and recognize items by retailers that do not make their UPC codes available to the public – by crowd-sourcing barcode label information and uploading it to the cloud.

As it stands today, the company’s decision to launch an in-home scanner with a 1D linear imager is purely based on the fact that most barcodes in circulation today (as part of product identification labels) are 1D. The mic allows users to add items that, for instance, they may not have around to scan. The Hiku hardware also has a magnet by which a consumer can place it on their fridge or any such surface in the kitchen. Forgoing the traditional Bluetooth connection, Hiku supports a wireless b/g/n connection to connect to the internet and user’s phone. Items which are scanned or picked up through the microphone are sent up to the cloud platform, where the item is recognized and then added to the user’s shopping list. Hiku Labs wants the product to be device-agnostic, with the ability to upload across a variety of different types of hardware and OS platforms. Hiku’s creators want OEMs to leverage their APIs and platform for at-home scanners – essentially creating hardware that plugs right in with Hiku’s solution and its capabilities – all while keeping overall costs in mind. The goal is to have consumers always pay a flat price for these products – no recurring fees or subscription-based models.

The device, as it stands today, is being piloted by notable supermarket chains – Waitrose in England and Cole’s Supermarkets in Australia; the company also announced a full rollout by French supermarket chain Chronodrive in March 2015 – marking it the first commercial availability of Hiku in the world. The device and API support multiple languages as Chronodrive customers are mainly French speaking. While Hiku is successfully piloting its products internationally, the company is yet to announce any major tie ups in the US. With the vision of providing what Hiku calls “frictionless shopping,” the company wants to reduce the steps involved in replacing items that consumers run out of. Via its partnership with Chronodrive, Hiku has enabled seamless scanning and listing of items through the device to the retailer’s app, and a mobile/e-payment option, and then having consumers simply picking up the desired items from the store-of-choice.

What VDC views as one of the primary adoption deterrents is the fact that this solution, at least for now, is designed to support only one retailer at a time, making it quite an expensive proposition for consumers looking to ease the shopping list creation process. Hiku has dropped its price per device from $79 to $29 (special promotion), making it slightly more palatable, but costly nevertheless. Most, if not all, shoppers shop at more than one store at a time. Hiku’s “exclusivity” clause with retailers could be detrimental to its future growth, making it something the company needs to work on.

Along similar lines, Amazon introduced the Amazon Dash (wand) in 2014, aimed at Amazon Fresh customers in California and Seattle. Like the Hiku device, this wand scans barcodes and is also capable of transcribing voice commands – connecting to smart devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) via Wi-Fi, and automatically adding items to the customer’s basket on Amazon Fresh. Customers have access to everything from groceries to electronics, household tools, and games via their Amazon Fresh subscription. From VDC’s perspective, Amazon is likely to be more successful with this product than any of its competitors in the marketplace because Amazon.com is a one-stop shop, capable of fulfilling all of a consumer’s shopping requirements – plus, available for free. For now, however, its limited availability (by invitation only) is potentially holding back consumer use.

Amazon also revealed its Dash button 5 months ago, again as an “invitation only” product, but made it available to all its Prime members on September 2nd. This product is designed to help consumers instantly order more of a single product at the press of a button, pushing a confirmation notification on the phone before it ships. The company now has more than 29 CPG brands (including Bounty, Clorox, Hefty, Tide, and Ziploc) and 500 products that can be ordered with the click of a Dash Button.

The at-home scanning market still has a long ways to go, of course, but it is interesting to talk about and follow all these developments. Leading AIDC market participants are eager to learn more about how they can potentially target the end consumer with their products, and this certainly sounds like the right kind of opportunity. Potentially. While there certainly is an OEM scan engine opportunity here, can traditional barcode scanner vendors do more from a (final) product design, development, marketing, and innovation standpoint? Or is the smartphone going to be the primary at-home scanning device for consumers? Would it be more judicious for retailers to integrate voice recognition and enterprise-grade barcode scanning types of capabilities into their consumer device application itself?

VDC will explore this topic while discussing products like the Amazon Dash and Hiku in its Mobile Scanner report scheduled to publish in Q4 2015.

(With Shahroze Husain, Research Associate)

 

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