« November 2011 | Main | January 2012 »

8 posts from December 2011


Mobile Impact: Vertical Market Spotlight - Transportation and Warehousing

The potential for efficient, flexible and effective coordination of transportation processes and networks lies in the emergence of internet-based information and communication technologies. Technologies such as RFID, e-commerce and telematics provide proven potential for the improvement of efficiency in coordination and transaction processes. In particular, these technologies provide opportunities for improved flexibility in coordinating supply and demand in dynamic supply network environments.

Warehouse processes

Mobile solutions have been helping organizations optimize basic warehouse processes for some time now – key processes such as reception, put-away, picking, shipping, and inventory management. Most importantly, these technologies are enabling organizations to reduce and/or eliminate human intervention. RFID-enabled products are playing a significant role, as multiple items can be read at the same time, eliminating the need for individual scans of pallets or cases. RFID can significantly reduce or eliminate problems due to human errors, which warehouse and transportation environments mainly relate to product counting and stock control, particularly in receiving and picking activities. For example, RFID can eliminate manual and visual verification of each received product, and speed up the receiving process and help to avoid bottlenecks at distribution centers, warehouses, and store entrance docks. Additionally, RFID integration into warehouse activities can promote cross-docking business models, where products move from inbound vehicles to outbound vehicles without any need to be stored, thus significantly reducing labor intensive and costly activities such as put-away and picking.

Given the potential of mobile technologies such as RFID to improve warehouse operations, numerous trials have taken place to verify the potential in supply chains of transportation intensive organization such as CPG manufacturing and retail. Publix Super Markets Inc., a Florida based supermarket chain has been actively using Electronic Product Code (EPC*) labels to improve the distribution of produce as it moves from suppliers to multiple distribution centers. Another notable example is Ballantine, a large fruit supplier – the company has been using RFID tags with their produce shipments to retailers like Walmart in order to gain competitive advantage and to deliver a fresher, more consistent product to consumers.

Fleet management systems

Fleet management systems enable logistics managers to monitor the daily distribution process of goods to customers (e.g. retail outlets) while monitoring important parameters (e.g., load temperature etc.). These systems record the position of the delivery fleet and the product temperature in real time (via temperature loggers), using a telematic unit that is fitted in each vehicle. The position of the vehicle is then relayed back to a central monitoring centre using GPRS technology. The data received is typically stored in a database and can be displayed on a variety of platforms, including mobile.

Fleet management systems are critical for the supply chains of CPG manufacturers and in retail distribution, were GPS/GPRS hardware is routinely integrated with refrigerated containers and/or trailers. By monitoring their assets in real-time (for any changes, such as refrigeration status and human or system errors) and using fleet management systems to predetermine routes and delivery times, these organizations can proactively detect any route violation(s) and have alerts generated an alert at their control center – allowing dispatchers to take necessary action(s) to avoid longer transportation times, which might affect the quality of the products.

Vehicle-routing systems

Vehicle-routing software is critical for transportation intensive organizations – these solutions enable firms to optimize their vehicle usage (e.g. minimize transportation time, distance travelled, etc) while bringing the ability to maximize vehicle / capacity usage.

The principal advantage of using automated vehicle-routing systems is that they can take into consideration a larger number of constraints and calculate more alternative solutions than can ever be done manually. Vehicle-routing software incorporates advanced scheduling methods (routing algorithms) that can generally be relied upon to provide very efficient solutions. For mission-critical scenarios, a vehicle-routing system can enable the scheduler to make fundamental changes to existing routes to allow late or urgent orders to be planned into the schedule while the system checks for any implications (missed delivery windows, legal infringements, etc.).

To learn more about the enterprise mobility opportunity in transportation and warehousing, click here for the executive summary to our recently published (November 2011) Report.

Growth of Enterprise Apps Ecosystem to Drive Tablet Adoption in 2012

Although 2011 was a big year for tablets with notable large deployments (e.g., American Airlines, SAP, and the Department of Veterans Affairs), the perception of tablets as a complementary/companion device remains. The aforementioned deployments are early evidence of potential this device class may offer to transform today’s enterprise.   The extended battery life, portability, and large screen size of tablets enable enhanced computing capacity and usability over the smartphone, while preserving the portability, connectivity, and long battery life appreciated by many smartphone users.  While tablet use and adoption has currently centered on the consumer market, we believe that the growing ecosystem of enterprise-class applications will drive tablets into the enterprise in 2012. We project that the global market for tablets will exceed 100M units by 2014 – while this pales in comparison to laptop penetration in the enterprise, it is significant growth.

Alongside the anticipated advantages these devices will enable for enterprise customers (i.e. in sales, business intelligence, or communication), companies such as IBM have begun to recognize the generous profit potential for companies best able to access this growing software market. Earlier this month, IBM expanded its suite of mobile offerings with the announcement of seven new mobile applications targeted at enterprise users.  These social networking apps cater to users of iPad and Android devices, offering software to facilitate capabilities ranging from instant messaging and reduced calling costs to management and attendance of online meetings. Salesforce.com’s anticipated Touch.salesforce.com (a tablet-optimized HTML5 mobile app) will also be impactful, as it will seamlessly enable users to access their Salesforce applications across tablet and smartphone platforms.

We expect that the market for tablet-optimized enterprise applications will experience substantial growth in 2012, led primarily by large ISVs and by innovative startups. As enterprises and IT organizations become more comfortable with mobile devices and tools, we expect to see tablets expand across the enterprise. This growth will spur further innovation and technological advances in software applications, driving new uses for this device in the enterprise.


2012 Enterprise Mobility Outlook

As 2011 comes to a close and we again face the ominous task of putting together our predictions for the coming year. Considering what transpired in 2011, it is hard to imagine a year as face-paced and filled with opportunities. Clearly enterprise mobility has evolved from a niche point solution to a mainstream segment of the IT landscape. There were numerous developments that signified 2011 – from Motorola landing a large managed services contract with Sears and Lowes deploying over 40K iPhones for their store associates to the introduction of the first rugged Android-powered tablets and mobile POS gaining momentum. 2012 is promising to be just as dynamic. Some of the most influential issues and trends we believe will shape the enterprise mobility dialogue in 2012 include:

  1. Consumer vs. Enterprise Lifecycles: Security Issues Loom Large. 
  2. Mobile Payment to Reach Critical Mass…especially for Many High Growth Customer Facing Applications. 
  3. Rugged Android…Is the Market Ready?
  4. Mobility Budget/Cost Pressures Loom Large.
  5. Can RIM recover in 2012? 
  6. The Cloud Vulnerabilities Continue for Mission Critical Enterprise Mobility.

We will be posting the complete research note on our website shortly. Stay posted...

Google to Compete with Dropbox

Google revamped Insync - its version of Dropbox - and made it available for public by removing registration limits. Insync has now moved past beyond beta stage and is available with its sync and file sharing capabilities. With this move, Google has become a clear competitor to Dropbox, SugerSync and Box; allowing Insync users to automatically sync, update, manage and share their files. While the main and most obvious target group appears to be the Google Docs users, Insync can also access files that are stored in your PC or Mac.

Despite the growing user base of Google Apps, Insync is targeting small businesses as well as many individuals that are not currently using a file sharing service and/or the ones that are using competing products; along with its pricing and "8x cheaper than Dropbox" marketing campaign. Dropbox is charging $120/year for 50 GB storage, while Insync is priced at $20/year for 80 GB; making it a viable alternative in today's cost conscious business world.  Even though many companies remain to be skeptical on file sharing platforms and Google Docs as a result of the security and privacy concerns, both Open Office and Google Docs; along with Dropbox and its competitors are expanding their user base. 

These products boost collaboration in today's increasingly mobile world with their easy access and permission levels (i.e. read and write or read-only). While it is too early to tell the performance, accessibility and security of Insync in comparison to other publicly available applications, the product is lacking mobile support as well as a dedicated mobile app. Considering Google's commitment to the mobile industry; mobile Insync app or the added Insync functionality to the company's current mobile apps would land on the app stores shortly. If the company is able to achieve the seamless integration with its Google Docs apps and provides support for any mobile device, Insync and Google Docs could be a very powerful productivity suite.

Mobile BI...Unlocking the Power of Mobile Devices

With mobile workers equipped with any variety of powerful smartphones and increasingly tablets, organizations are looking beyond traditional email and messaging applications to see how they can leverage these devices. One such opportunity is mobile BI solutions. While this is certainly not new - VDC has been tracking mobile BI for several years now - several factors suggest that demand is about to pick up substantially. When we first looked at the opportunity for mobile BI in 2009 approximately one in ten organizations stated that they had some level of investment/deployment or evaluation of mobile BI solutions underway. Fast forward to 2011 and that ratio has now reached 30-35% of organizations.

Mobile BI solutions have also developed substantially and are capable of fully leveraging today's powerful mobile technology. The solutions are no longer relatively limited snapshots of BI reports but rather represent tools with powerful querying capabilities with dynamic data access. These capabilities are also fundamentally changing the role and value-add of analytics and business and customer intelligence as the information is being made available to a much broader group of users - many of whom may have previously not have had access to this intelligence.

One of the fundamental questions challenging BI solution providers is their approach to application development. Namely native or HTML5/browser based solutions. Vendors are mixed in their approach with some also opting for a hybrid approach. Today the richer and more dynamic solutions typically are designed as native application for a specific device. However, as HTML5 solutions evolve and address many of today's limitations we expect them to be increasingly favored based on their cross platform appeal. VDC will be dedicating much of our research in 2012 towards looking at a variety of emerging enterprise mobility applications such as mobile BI. We look forward to continuing this dialog.


Can the FDA Regulate Mobile Device/ Applications Without Stiffling Innovation and R&D Spend?

The increasing number of smartphones and media tablets deployed to the health care environments, has resulted in an influx of mobile apps targeted for patients and health care professionals. While the success of Apple's iPad is the main driver for tablet deployments in the industry, multiple mobile OSes for smartphones and tablets have also flooded the market. Based on our end-user study that we fielded in 2011, 36.9% of health care respondents stated that their organization has evaluated and decided to deploy media tablets, with an additional 42.3% planning to evaluate. As a result of the rapid mobile device proliferation occuring in the health care industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently proposed a draft guidance to regulate mobile medical apps. With this proposal, the FDA sought to solicit input on some of the mobile medical apps that may represent a potential risk to patient health in case they do not work as intended.

While the general consensus is that the FDA should be regulating some of the mobile medical apps that are specifically designed and used for diagnosis and clinical treatment purposes; the gray areas that have been identified in the proposal could cause potential disruptions in the industry. The agency encourages the technological advancements and further development of mobile medical apps that can provide health care professionals with highly valuable patient information. Hence, some of the mobile medical apps related to medical devices have already been cleared by the agency prior to the proposal. However, it remains to be seen whether the FDA can actually keep up with the latest developments in mobile technology and ensure patient safety without stiffling innovation and R&D spend.

More information on the impact of the FDA on mobile developments can be found in our Research Note that will be published in the next couple of days. In the meantime, please click here to access our most recent QuickCast  - Taking the Pulse of Mobility in Health Care.


IBM’s Mail Triage - a Peek into the Potential Future of Mobile Email

If we were to estimate the proliferation and popularity of various internet platforms and applications, judging solely by the ratio of news and industry coverage dedicated to each, we would see Google, Twitter and Facebook tower over other applications, such as email.  And yet, according to research conducted by Smarter Tools, the total number of posts on Facebook and Twitter combined comprise no more than .2% of email traffic.  This trend has carried over into the mobile world as well, with approximately 82% of smartphone owners regularly checking and sending mobile email.

So how is it that email, which has developed into a staple of personal and business communication, falls short in attracting the attention and recognition these statistics would suggest it has earned?  Lacking a serious challenger to threaten this nearly 50-year old technology, email has not been as driven to evolve and innovate to maintain relevance in the digital age – particularly for users in business settings where smartphone adoption continues to ramp.  

This may soon change with the introduction of a revolutionary new mobile email technology by technology giant, IBM.  Recognizing the importance of adapting email to the evolving needs of an increasingly mobile user base, IBM has been working on developing an improved user experience targeted to satisfy the unique demands inherent to the use of mobile email applications.  IBM’s Mail Triage Project enables users to “triage” emails, or sort them by the degree of urgency and intended follow-up.

Incoming emails will initially fall into the “Untriaged” box, indicating that the user has not yet addressed these messages.  Whereas traditional email clients generally identify “unread” versus “read” messages, analysis of consumers’ mobile email behavior inspired IBM’s researchers to dichotomize users’ new and unread messages.  Although mobile email users check their inbox throughout the day, these individuals frequently assess these messages without opening them.  Thus IBM’s email client enhances the value of the “inbox” screen by identifying several characteristics of the email.  Seen below, a blue background indicates a new message, while a blue circle to the left identifies all unread messages.  Additionally, another circle serves to illustrate the number of recipients, with a green circle indicating the email was intended only for this user, a half circle showing it has few recipients, the clear circle revealing many recipients or that this users was Cc’d, and no circle identifying an email in which they were Bcc’d.  



Source: IBM

The functionality of this mobile email client extends to the desktop computer, where users may address emails they had determined to “defer” until reaching a computer email client.  While IBM’s Triage product may not represent the future of mobile email, this evolution of email to suit a mobile environment is a significant milestone for the email application.  The eventual launch of IBM’s Triage will likely drive further innovation and adaptation of email applications and the emergence of competitor products to better serve our increasingly mobile lives.  

IBM revealed some of the capabilities of their Mail Triage client back in the summer of 2010, when the company opened its Mass Lab in Littleton Massachusetts. The company has done well at playing the part of  a vendor/device agnostic participant in the mobile ecosystem, and is now emphasizing its software prowess – this can be evidenced by the Mail Triage client as well as a bevy of tablet oriented apps that were revealed just this week.

Check back next week for an upcoming blog post discussing business-grade tablet applications …



Cyber Monday Sees Many Retailers Drop the Ball on the Wrong Holiday

Each year, Black Friday draws an increasingly sharp contrast between the die-hard shopper happy to camp for days outside a local brick-and-mortar store and the shrinking patience of web surfing and increasingly mobile surfing consumers, who flip from one store to another with the click or swipe of a button. While retailers nationwide have declared this past shopping weekend a tremendous success, a closer look at many companies’ online performance tells a very different story.  

This year’s Cyber Monday raked in an estimated $1.25 billion in sales – officially earning 11/28/11 the record for the heaviest day of online commerce in history (Wall Street Journal).  Unfortunately, many retailers were ill-equipped with the necessary infrastructure to handle this incredible spike in online traffic.  Catchpoint, a company that analyzed the sites of the top 55 internet retailers, discovered that Brookstone’s site was down for nearly 7 hours, PC Mall for over 2 hours and even Toys ‘R’ Us for about 42 minutes on Cyber Monday.

This year also saw a 371% increase in the number of customers shopping on mobile devices, where sites are expected to be “as fast or faster” than other sites, according to Leah Manz of Akamai (a Massachusetts-based internet content delivery network).   In today’s economy, retailers cannot afford downtime in mobile/web-based sites – these frustrated customers will likely be driven to the sites of competitors.  Mobile/web-acceleration companies such as CDNetworks, Mirror Image Internet, HighWinds and Cotendo (rumored to be an acquisition target for Akamai) offer solutions for these companies that will enable them to close the performance gaps that many of their mobile customers experienced last week. Most importantly, these solutions will help with customer satisfaction.

We will continue to track the mobile acceleration space as we see it becoming increasingly important as mission-critical and enterprise-grade mobile applications continue to evolve/emerge.