Mobility is coming to retail in 2012. As one large retailer recently told me at NRF, “Last year we talked about mobile, this year we are implementing it.” Almost every other booth had a mobile solution of one type or another. These solutions ranged from simple mobile shopping apps for smartphones to very ambitious integrated solutions involving tablets, smartphones and smart displays.
One thing that stood out was the uncertainty around how to handle mobile payments. There was everything from a wide range of dongles and sleds that attach magnetic stripe readers (MSRs) to tablets via a USB port, to more integrated approaches, such as our CL900 SlateMate™ that securely integrates an MSR and barcode scanner into the tablet’s internal frame.
We also received a lot of interest in a handheld multi-format device from VeriFone that handles credit cards, debit cards, chip & pin and near field communication (NFC). When used in conjunction with Motion® tablets, this device creates a rich, point-of-sale (POS) experience that can include high-quality photos, video and sound along with up-to-the-minute information regarding inventory and special offers. With real-time access to product information and availability via the tablets, consumers can make more informed selections and then, using the VeriFone device, can privately input their payment information to complete the transaction. This is particularly attractive for Europay, MasterCard and VISA (EMV), NFC or debit card transactions, where the customer needs to interface directly with the payment device in order to complete the transaction.
Virtual dressing rooms
Kinect is going to be a game changer for retail. Microsoft® was demonstrating a very simple application that allowed users to virtually try on clothing by projecting their image on a large screen and overlaying images of the clothing. Imagine uploading a picture of your future wedding reception to see how your dress will look in a specific location or trying on snowboarding gear while playing Shaun White’s latest game on the Xbox 360.
Data mining encourages customization
Retailers are obsessed with learning as much as possible about their customers and using that information to present them with customized offers. The show floor was packed with software companies claiming to be able to bring all of the divergent streams of customer data together in one easy-to-digest sales tool. Ideally, this data will end up on a tablet in a sales associate’s hand. There were also many companies promoting cameras and smart displays that can track where people are clustering in the store and what products they are gravitating toward. This will help retailers do a better job of merchandising, staffing and creating the ultimate in-store experience.
It’s clear to me that mobile POS tools are going to be adopted by a wide range of retailers this year, and these implementations will be as varied as the retailers they support. The common factor is a desire for increased customer satisfaction, improved revenue and higher employee productivity.
I am pleased to announce that we are now shipping the first ultra-light and rugged tablet PC – the CL900! The first shipments include customers and partners in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Germany and the United States, representing industries across Motion’s target markets including retail, field service, construction and healthcare.
For those of you who are familiar with the process of bringing a product to market, I’m sure you can understand how exciting today is for the entire company. We first began developing the CL900 in early 2011. We wanted to provide our customers with a small form factor, rugged tablet PC with both touch and stylus input that maintained Motion’s high standard of power, battery life and durability. With these factors in mind, we created the 2.1 lbs. CL900 with a 10.1-inch display, running Windows 7 and powered by Intel’s latest Atom Processor, the Z670 Series. Being a Motion product, it was essential that the CL900 come with Corning Gorilla Glass and pass MIL-STD-810G and IP52 testing (check out the drop test video). You can check out the press release for additional product details.
We were very excited to announce the CL900 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this past January, and we received very positive feedback from media, analysts, partners and customers alike. According to Boy Genius Report’s Zach Epstein, over 100 tablets were announced at the show. As you can see, not only did we go up against some very stiff competition, but we were also the first ultra-light, rugged tablet PC to ship! Many of the tablets unveiled at the show never even came to fruition.
I want to congratulate and thank Motion’s employees for their continuous work on and support of the CL900 from the initial concept all the way through first customer ship.
At Motion, we are focused on the walking or standing worker. Someone who needs access to information while they are walking a jobsite or providing care at a patient bedside. We call this “point of service” computing. Supporting this worker requires understanding the specifics of the deployment in four areas: The way the work is done (workflow), the environment in which it is done, the software usability and requirements and the IT infrastructure available to support the worker.
Workflow - How are tasks currently being accomplished and how could they be completed more efficiently?
It is very important to accurately document how the work is being done today before trying to automate it or change the workflow to utilize a tablet. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you automate a process that is out of control, you just get out of control faster.” Having IT teams or business process managers do a series of “ride-alongs” with customers’ front line workers can be invaluable in helping the team that is planning the deployment really understand the nuances of the current work process. We’ve learned a lot from these customer interactions when planning a new product. Some of added features have included easy-to read battery gauges that are visible from the front of the machine (nurses didn’t want to flip over the tablet to check battery life in the middle of a patient visit), identical batteries that are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket (field workers keep batteries warm by putting them in their pockets in the winter to help maximize the battery life), a hot-swap battery feature to support uninterrupted productivity and longer straps on some of our carrying cases (construction guys require a longer strap so that they can sling the tablet across their back not over their shoulder).
Another important consideration is the total number of devices mobile employees are now being asked to manage. It’s not uncommon to see a field technician carrying a mobile phone, computer, camera and GPS around with them. We’ve tried to integrate key peripherals where it makes sense in order to limit the number of devices that have to be charged, connected and carried. That’s why our C5v and F5v have options that include bar code scanners, digital/web cameras, RFID readers and magnetic stripe readers.
My point is that there are often subtle yet important differences between how the work is supposed to be done and how it is actually being done. Supporting the way the work is actually done can be a key element of a successful deployment.
What software are you going to use?
There is a lot of interest and excitement around the capability of using a tablet as a virtual machine by utilizing Citrix® or VMWare®. The general idea is that you don’t need to worry about the performance capability or the software compatibility of the tablet because you can run everything though the virtual desktop interface. We’ve had Healthcare clients doing this for years on our C5-Series tablets, primarily because they didn’t want to keep any patient information on the tablet due to privacy concerns. What is interesting is that most of these clients have still been asking for dual core processors and lots of memory. When we talked to them further, it turned out that while they were running their Electronic Medical Record (EMR) application in virtual mode, they had a number of other applications that were being run on the tablet and they still required a lot of processing power as a result. This is becoming more common across industries, a mix between cloud-based and client-based applications.
Understanding how your deployment will utilize the software applications and how many of those applications will need to be running at one time will help you choose the right operating system for the tablet as well as the right level of processor power and storage.
What environment is the tablet going to be use in?
If a tablet is going to be used while standing or walking, then it is probably going to get bumped or dropped from time to time. Cases can help, but they really can’t turn a system that was designed to be used by a consumer to something that will work well in a warehouse or on a construction site. These tablets will also need to be cleaned and in some cases disinfected. That is not always an easy task for a consumer-grade device. We have a partner that has created an Ultraviolet cleaning station for our C5v products. This video illustrates the challenges associated with disinfecting a tablet. If the system is going to be used outside you need to think about both the view-ability of the display in bright sunlight and the ability of the tablet to work in both hot and cold conditions.
The environment also includes considerations such as if the tablet will be assigned to a single person or shared across a number of units. Will it be used from 9-5 or 24 hours a day, seven days a week like we see in hospitals? Will the workers need vehicle mounts or hands free carriers for use while climbing ladders?
What infrastructure is available to support the deployment?
This area is closely related to both the workflow and the software. For many deployments, access to the internet is not always available or reliable enough to be completely cloud-based. For most of these customers, a store-and-forward design allows them to continue completing the inspections or transactions when they are offline. Once they move back into range or dock the system in an office they are able to synch their tablet with the network.
It is also important to develop an asset management and security plan for both the tablet and the information on the tablet. One of the benefits of point-of-service computing is that it allows your employees to have access to the critical information that they need when they are face to face with a customer or patient. This also means that there may be sensitive business or customer information on that system. There are a number of software programs that allow you to remotely disable a tablet and protect the data if the system is lost or stolen. We recommend Computrace™ from Absolute® Software. The important point is that you need to have processes and policies in place before any mobile device is lost or stolen.
The service and support process is also important. These units will become a critical part of delivering improved productivity in the field. When a tablet is out of service you may be losing some of the new revenue you’ve found by improving field collaboration and productivity. It is important that you work with your vendor and your reseller to design a service program that reflects how the units are deployed. For a hospital, a traditional on-site service agreement may be appropriate. For a company with 20-30 retail stores spread across 3 states with no local IT support, they may want more of a turnkey, accelerated replacement program.
I’ve covered a lot of ground in this article and I don’t want it to be intimidating. None of these questions require a tremendous amount of expertise in a specific area. They are intended to help you identify some of the key elements that lead to a successful tablet deployment. It is worth the effort, and more and more companies are starting to understand the fundamental business value of tablets. Here is how we define that value at Motion.
While limiting incremental costs, tablet PCs and supporting mobility solutions enable companies to increase…
• Revenue per transaction
• Cash conversion through shorter cycle times
• Efficiency through eliminating redundancies
• Customer satisfaction
When you are evaluating the list of proposed projects with your management team, this article may help explain why you are prioritizing the tablet rollout ahead of other projects. If you need more information, there is a recorded webinar on this same topic on Motion’s website entitled: Selecting the Right Tablet PC for Business