How Increased Visibility Improves the Retail Supply Chain

By Jeff Schmitz | 03/22/2017 | 12:25 PM

There’s no denying that we live in an increasingly digital world. Everything we want or need can be obtained with just a click of a button or swipe of the finger. But as technology advances, consumers gain more and more power – and with more power comes higher expectations for a great customer experience.

As online shopping continues to grow at a rapid pace, retailers’ supply chains are forced to keep up with demand and provide unprecedented levels of convenience to help businesses drive customer loyalty and achieve consistent revenue streams. Retailers can no longer rely on traditional or outdated supply chain processes if they want to stay competitive with e-commerce giants. That’s why many of them are beginning to shift their focus and give their supply chains a high-tech makeover. According to the recent Zebra Retail Vision Study, 72 percent of retailers plan to reinvent their supply chains with real-time visibility enabled by automation, sensors and analytics.

In regards to automation, 65 percent of retailers plan to invest in inventory and supply chain automation by 2021. Because multichannel shopping has become the norm, inventory accuracy is more critical than ever as products from both brick-and-mortar and digital channels flow through the supply chain. Studies show superior omnichannel support requires 90 percent inventory accuracy or greater, but the retail industry is not where it needs to be. As an industry, retail inventory accuracy falls much lower at around 65 percent.

To improve accuracy, many retailers are budgeting for digital upgrades that enable automated, real-time inventory visibility via Internet of Things (IoT) technologies such as RFID. Using RFID platforms increases inventory accuracy to 95 percent, while out-of-stocks can be reduced by 60 - 80 percent with item-level RFID tagging. So, it’s no surprise over 70 percent of retailers plan to provide, or are currently providing, item-level RFID technology.

Along with RFID, retailers are also turning to analytics to enhance visibility as well as inventory demand and forecasting. According to Zebra’s study, 75 percent of retailers plan to invest in predictive analytics by 2021. If retailers can determine what’s selling and what’s not, they can better manage inventory to keep customers happy and avoid stock-outs and overstocks. The study indicates one of the key sources of customer dissatisfaction today is out-of-stock merchandise, and McKinsey & Company found reducing stock-outs and overstocks can lower inventory costs by 10 percent.

Retailers are also migrating from siloed supply chain processes to unified commerce models. These models ensure end-to-end, digital and brick-and-mortar enterprise visibility of store associates, shoppers and merchandise. Taking this approach allows stores to double as distribution centers, getting customers what they want and in their hands faster — which means no longer having to solely rely on warehouses to get the job done and providing a better overall shopping experience.

How the “Intelligent Enterprise” Will Shape 2017 Technology Trends

By Jeff Schmitz | 02/06/2017 | 12:15 PM

It’s that time of year when everyone reflects on the past while looking to the future, and enterprises are no different. Executives at companies worldwide are reviewing changes in their industries including disruptive competitors and the technologies driving them. At the same time, they are reviewing their own technology implementations, assessing their effectiveness and looking to 2017 for further innovations.  

In 2017, there will be growing “chatter” in the enterprise, thanks to smart devices that are now able to “speak” to the cloud and to one another. Some enterprises are already able to pinpoint the location and health of their critical assets, and are looking to expand the data available from these devices. Apart from operational data, these devices can provide real-time workflow visibility ensuring that the next best action is taken to achieve their business objectives.

Additionally, enterprises will take data to the next level in 2017 and begin to truly decode the information already being collected from IoT-enabled and wearable devices. Decoding this data will help inform and accelerate the decision-making process. However, this opportunity is not without its challenges. As computing power has skyrocketed and the amount of energy needed for each computation has plummeted, the ability to track and analyze data is reaching a point where enterprises have to jump in.

Data is, in fact, “perishable.” This means if you leave it sitting for too long, data loses its value and the ability to provide time sensitive insight your enterprise needs. Data has a shelf life, and enterprises are losing valuable insights because of the disjointed sources generating and collecting data independently, contributing only to a small piece of the big picture. One of the greatest challenges in the next year will be for businesses to translate captured data - across all devices and business functions - into actionable insights as fast as they can.

The “Intelligent Enterprise” is an operational framework that helps to define how information passes from the physical world into the digital world and how the resultant data is analyzed along the way providing real-time actionable insights and visibility. In partnership with the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), Zebra assembled 40 industry experts for the 2016 Innovation Symposium: The Intelligent Enterprise. Click here to discover how these thought leaders defined an “Intelligent Enterprise” and how you may apply these best practices and opportunities to your organization.

Ultimately, the “Intelligent Enterprise” provides a new level of visibility that will enable businesses to grow faster by helping to make better decisions more quickly and efficiently. In 2017, we will begin to see enterprises functioning intelligently on a larger scale, across industries, to remain agile and save both time and money.

Enterprises should be excited for the coming year and the real-time opportunities it will bring. Businesses will be better positioned to react to how products and inventory are moving and where they are needed, manufacturers will understand what parts are needed and how to produce them immediately, and enterprises will be situationally aware of what’s happening across all their business processes and can act on that information immediately.

The “Intelligent Enterprise” is Among Decade’s Most Impactful Trends

By Jeff Schmitz | 01/04/2017 | 11:19 AM

In 2016, Zebra explored the concept of the “Intelligent Enterprise,” an operational framework that helps to define how information passes from solutions to their handlers and how the data analyzed along the way provides actionable insights and visibility. In partnership with the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), we assembled 40 industry experts for the 2016 Innovation Symposium: The Intelligent Enterprise. Click here to discover how these thought leaders defined an “Intelligent Enterprise” and explored best practices and opportunities for organizations of varying sizes and industries.

When you think about the various industries that drive our world - including healthcare, transportation, logistics, manufacturing and retail - enterprises are already taking advantage of a new “intelligence” to make decisions in real time today. At the heart of the Intelligent Enterprise are sensors, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, beacons and locationing solutions that, along with the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), offer enterprises real-time operational visibility.

Gartner predicts 6.4 billion connected things are in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. But what does this explosive growth mean for the future and how can enterprises harness this intelligence to drive meaningful innovation?

The concept of the “Intelligent Enterprise” is about making businesses as smart and connected as the world that surrounds us. A sensor may seem like a small device, but when married with the troves of data and the ability to understand – and act – on it brings a big wave of technological innovation, creativity and new levels of intelligence to our world.

Engaging and leveraging the tremendous advances that IoT brings to enterprise solutions can be challenging. The answer lies in a framework that Zebra refers to as sense-analyze-act. Sensing data, analyzing it for insights and then mobilizing it to the right person to drive specific actions is fundamental to building an “Intelligent Enterprise”.

For example, to help advance retailers’ capabilities, Zebra is working with them to develop solutions to dramatically improve inventory accuracy levels, which is frequently a barrier to a successful omni-channel strategy. While our solutions enable automation, human interaction is still critical at many points in the fulfillment chain, and we are helping retailers with real-time visibility of inventory, efficient picking, staging and delivery to customers.

With smarter devices come smarter things and smarter environments, paving the way for enterprises across all industries to become more intelligent.

Back to the Future: A Look at Today’s Wearables and IoT

By Jeff Schmitz | 11/07/2016 | 10:23 AM

The wearables we use today were once noted as science-fiction – at times showcased in a “Back to the Future” plot twist that defied the concept of widespread deployment. However, technology marches forward and technologies that were once portrayed as futuristic have come to life and are injecting some form of disruption into every industry. Enterprises are compelled to look at how they can deliver better results more efficiently and effectively using new technology, including wearables. 

The driving force behind this technology disruption is that enterprises now look to data for insight into their processes, helping them to identify opportunities to streamline operations, expand market share and spark ideas for new products. But what captures all of this data? There are many devices that live at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, turning real-world information into insightful data, also known as Enterprise Asset Intelligence. And increasingly those devices include wearables. Straight from the wrist and hands of enterprise employees across industries, wearable devices are capturing vital information from the Internet of Things (IoT), and analytics software is making sense of it.

We have already seen wearable technology and IoT make a dramatic impact on the way workers operate in the warehouse, retail, transportation and logistics and manufacturing industries on a day-to-day basis. The increased emphasis on enterprise wearables for workers is changing back-end operations and helping to overcome tremendous business process challenges.

One of those business challenges is finding new ways to streamline and error-proof every aspect of order fulfilment and inventory management. According to the recent Zebra Vision Study, nearly half of all survey respondents indicated a concern about labor performance in the order, pick and fulfillment process. With wearable technology, warehouse workers are able to boost their productivity to new levels, minimizing scan frustration in the most challenging work environments. Additionally, hands-free and speech-directed picking devices increase user mobility, comfort and accuracy. By creating wearable devices with the end-user and worker in mind, new levels of productivity have been achieved and cycle times have been improved by integrated wearable technology that provides enhanced situational awareness and gives workers real-time access to critical data and video at the point of work.

By 2020, Zebra Vision Study respondents cited plans to make investments in the following processes and tools: equipping staff with technology (73 percent), bar code scanning (68 percent), tablets (66 percent) and the Internet of Things (62 percent). As IoT becomes more deeply engrained in all of our enterprise processes, wearable technology will become that much more valuable in helping employees to easily capture information. Current technologies will continue to evolve and revolutionize the way people instinctively work with devices and intuitively interact with their environments, making what once seemed like science fiction a reality.

The days of Marty McFly and his self-lacing shoes and hover boards are among us – and the manufacturing, warehouse and logistics industries are primed and ready to take advantage of IoT wearable technology to bring us back to the future with Enterprise Asset Intelligence.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Jeff Schmitz

Jeff Schmitz

Jeff Schmitz is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Zebra. Mr. Schmitz most recently served as executive vice president for multiple business units and sales at Spirent Communications where he had previously also held several senior leadership roles including chief marketing officer and vice president of networks & applications. Prior to joining Spirent, Mr. Schmitz held senior marketing positions at Rivulet Communications, Visual Networks and Tellabs Inc. Mr. Schmitz holds a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Marquette University and a Master of Science degree in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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