Thursday, 12 January 2017 16:01

Analytics, smart sensing, and wearables are key tech trends in 2017


With the world becoming increasingly mobile — connected — customer expectations that business can be conducted anywhere at any time are increasing. There is no such thing as business done to a 9-5 clock.

That is putting increasing pressure on every facet of the supply chain and technologies such as machine learning, advanced analytics, wearables and smart sensing — to name a few — will be further entrenched into the day-to-day operations of Australian organisations.

Many of these will either replace tasks that were previously done manually or expand existing work scopes to allow employees to do more in less time.

iTWire spoke to Wayne Harper, chief technology officer, APAC, Zebra Technologies, a company that makes all the “bits” to help keep the supply chain moving – mobile computers, printers, scanners and workforce mobility.

Zebra HarperHarper said, “Zebra Technologies has examined the possibilities that these new technologies can bring to enterprises, customers, partners, and end-users, to make them as connected and smart as the world we live. Here are five emerging industry trends and how they will potentially impact local enterprises.” He outlined these trends in his own words below. 


Making sense of data before it “perishes”

Zebra perishableOver the last few years, there has been an exponential growth of unstructured data generated in almost all industries that have been disrupted by IoT and data analytics. The reality of today is that data is perishable and its value is time-sensitive. However, many organisations are unable to properly make sense of this data fast enough before it has lost its value. They are losing valuable insights due to numerous disjointed sources generating and collecting data, contributing only bits and pieces to the bigger picture.

Decoding this data collected through IoT-enabled devices and wearables will help companies accelerate decision-making processes and make more informed business judgements. According to IDC, every person online will create 1.7 megabytes of new data every second by 2020. At this rate, the concept of “perishable data” becomes even more relevant. One of the challenges next year will be for businesses to translate captured data into actionable insights as fast as they can.

Enterprises will do more with devices

Zebra mobile devicesEach day, more consumer-grade devices powered by various operating systems (OS) are being embedded deeper into business operations. Many organisations even encourage employees to BYOD. Despite being portable, flexible and cost-effective, these devices do not incorporate the capabilities needed to achieve high performance and drive efficiency in an enterprise setting.

In 2017, Australian enterprises will continue to look for new ways to enhance and expand the functionality of their devices to attain a level of performance on par with that of enterprise devices.

We will see demand — in areas such as retail, healthcare, transportation & logistics and manufacturing — for mobile devices that scan barcodes, measure objects using dimensioning technologies, connect to the internet/intranet, make voice calls and more.

Similarly, enterprises will increasingly shift to 2D imaging technology for barcode scanning. Whether printed on paper or on a mobile screen, 2D scanners can capture barcodes from various angles, off multiple surfaces, piecing together all necessary missing information.

Wearables used in the warehouse are increasingly equipped with multi-modal features, allowing workers to access multiple functions in a single device. These can issue voice-directed commands, allowing users to receive instructions and undertake the task simultaneously, leading to 15% productivity gains according to recent Zebra research.

Mobile dimensioning is another trend picking up steam, particularly in the transport and logistics sector. In a market where shipping fees are increasingly charged by volumetric weight for lighter items, such as garments or gadgets, this ground-breaking technology enables field workers to measure the dimensions of a package with a single touch on their mobile device – doing away with the hassle and inefficiency of carrying and using a measuring tape.

AI and automation will solve age-old supply chain issues

Zebra roboticsWhilst there has been a concern around Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Robotics displacing workers, supply chain strategists are hoping more of these technologies will be used in 2017 to boost the productivity of human employees.

IDC has identified robotics as one of six innovation accelerators that will drive digital transformation by opening new revenue streams. It forecasts global spending on robotics and related services to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17 percent from more than US$71 billion in 2015 to US$135.4 billion in 2019.

Amazon and DHL have already started employing robots for handling materials in their warehouses. These robots can lift and move goods in the warehouse and bring them to employees who then pick and pack relevant items. This reduces the need for workers to run down warehouse aisles to hand-pick items that need to be shipped.

Businesses are looking to adopt more automated machines in the years to come, such as roving robotic devices or flying drones that can read barcodes and RFID tags with little or no human intervention. According to Zebra’s Warehouse Vision Study, seven in ten decision makers expect to accelerate their warehouse technology investments to improve fulfillment accuracy, reduce out-of-stock situations, and shorten delivery times.

Enterprise-grade mobile devices gear up for operating system (OS) choices

Zebra enterprise devicesIt’s a fact that consumer-grade devices are simply not efficient in addressing enterprise needs- they are not made for the heavy-duty, demanding business-critical tasks that live in an enterprise environment. While it may appear to be cheaper upfront, using consumer-grade devices in an enterprise environment involves a higher total cost of ownership (TCO) long term. VDC Research estimates the average annual TCO of a ruggedised mobile computer is 44% lower than the average annual TCO of a non-rugged small form factor device.

In 2017, as organisations start to adopt more task-specific devices, they need to first decide on the mobile OS on which to build their applications. Over the last decade, Windows has traditionally been the preferred OS. However, the company will end support for Windows CE and Windows Embedded Handheld (WEH) 6.5 by 2020 – which most enterprise-grade devices are currently running on.

This decision has thrust companies into a situation where they urgently need to choose an alternative OS from a host of new options, such as Android, Microsoft Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1, Apple’s iOS, and HTML – each bringing with it pros and cons. We have already observed an uptake in the adoption of the Android OS in the enterprise space.

Locationing will be key to customer satisfaction

zebra sportThe sports industry has taken the lead in deploying industrial locationing technology in innovative ways. In the US, the National Football League (NFL) players wear jerseys with RFID tags sewn in so that their movements can be accurately tracked in real time, enabling an in-depth analysis of the dynamics taking place on the field and for fans to engage with play-by-play statistics. RFID tags have also been placed in the footballs to track their movement across all 120 yards. These sensors and tracking technologies can even integrate with other monitoring systems to provide a greater level of insight.

In 2017, we foresee that such locationing technology — some even in the form of drone-based applications — will be further explored to enhance the customer experience in industries spanning healthcare, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. Customised messages and offers can be sent via locationing technology — using Bluetooth beacons and sensors — to push location-based coupons or offers to guests, as well as location-based alerts.

The new year ultimately presents Australian businesses with an opportunity to re-examine the relationship between their organisation and its data, its people and assets. Through smart enterprise assets and technologies, companies themselves can become smarter, making more informed decisions to the betterment of the business in 2017.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!



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