With 41 percent market share, Zebra Technologies Corp, boasts that it is the worldwide leader in enterprise mobile computing technology. Its products are found in barcode scanning and labeling, personal identification, location solutions, wireless networks and specialty printing solutions principally in the manufacturing, supply chain, retail, transportation and logistics, field mobility, warehouse, healthcare and government sectors.
Joe White, Zebra’s vice president and general manager of Enterprise Mobile Computing, says the key to maintaining this leadership position is to get more visibility into use cases. The company didn't always have that.
“As an equipment OEM, in the past it wasn’t unusual for us to only hear through managed service providers how our equipment was performing in the field,” White says. “For example, when I joined the business we had a quality problem on a product line that had 200,000 devices in the field. It could take over a year for some problems to get back to us.
“That was really a catalyst for us to be more predictive in our ability to support our customers and be responsive to issues they see in the field,” White says. “Our partner community plays an important role in fulfilling the end customer’s overall needs, but given the added touch points, they also slowed and hindered the information feed back to our engineering and operational teams. We could no longer rely on the layers of partners and support elements between us and the end customer.”
The issue was not the ability to amass enormous amounts of data but to gather the key data that would drive insights to improve device performance and boost return on investment.
“Data's somewhat like a needle in a haystack,” White says. “You can't expect to build a bigger haystack and make it easier to find a needle. It is how you mine the data and drive intelligent, actionable results.”
Actionable Intelligence Solution
In 2012, B2M Solutions began collaborating with Zebra (via Motorola Solutions, whose enterprise business Zebra acquired two years later) to develop its cloud-hosted analytics solution called Elemez. The software would give Zebra’s enterprise customers a way to optimize their mobile deployments by applying real-time, focused analytics and delivering actionable information.
Zebra engineer Robert Biggs says the company first launched the software on its rugged Android TC55 Touch Computer product line, a flagship Zebra device with integrated data capture capabilities and built for tough industrial environments.
“We saw Elemez as a complete end-to-end solution and we definitely wanted a platform that was not mobile device management-dependent,” Biggs says. “Everything was done from data collection on the client's side and transported to the cloud. It included analytics processing and visualization and we consumed everything from a web client or, in some cases, a small machine interface.”
Software Put to the Test
Not long after the Elemez software was deployed on the entire line of tens of thousands of Android TC55 Touch Computers, the software was put to the test.
“We have a customer in South America that deploys our devices,” Biggs says. “One day, all of a sudden, we got an alert from Elemez generated by its analytics engine telling us, ‘Hey, there are a large number of disruptions going on and you may want to take a look at it.’ We could see that the users were having problems in the field because of a third party MDM product and the devices were rebooting. We were able to proactively call the customer and let him know. He didn't know that there was a problem. He hadn't had one call or complaint about the product.”
The solution was a simple software update that was developed and released to the fleet. The fix immediately eliminated an estimated 80 hours of reboot-related downtime each week. That equates to recovering approximately $160,000 of non-productive labor costs per year.
B2M founder and president Julie Purves says, “It's an absolute endorsement of the growing importance of analytics and the ability to provide insight to Zebra's customers and partners. And this is just the beginning. The potential of how Zebra will exploit this is enormous.”
White adds, “We were able to also call the third party MDM vendor in parallel and find out that they released a brand new code that morning. That MDM vendor was able to find the bug, correct it and get it deployed by later that afternoon. Because of Elemez, we were able to provide a better customer experience. In fact, the customer said ‘Hey, let me know when you see a problem in my devices again.’"
Since the Elemez deployment on the TC55 line, Zebra has been able to proactively fix bugs it didn’t know it had. The company has approached partners who had written applications that may not perform effectively and tell them they are using too much battery life or there is a flaw in the code. “That has changed the interaction and the dynamics we've had with both our customers and our partners,” White says.
Mark Kirstein runs Zebra’s enterprise software business. He is responsible for approximately 20 products that add value and differentiate Zebra’s hardware and software. He says most Zebra customers, like the South American example, buy through the channel. He adds that the responsibility to fix problems traditionally has fallen on these partners.
However, Kirstein says the B2M analytics is putting Zebra in a position to deal with those issues much sooner and faster, ultimately adding value to its partners.
“First, it gives us a better understanding internally of our products,” he says. “How do they get used? How do they perform? We deliver a product to the field that we say will meet certain quality expectations. Is it meeting those expectations? Our ability to measure data around those expectations is important.
“Second, measuring this data enables our customers to view how the devices are being used and when they are being used,” Kirstein continues. “We want to manage that end-to-end mobility lifecycle with the customers themselves. They invest a lot of money in their mobile enterprises and providing that insight truly differentiates us.”
New Opportunities for Excellence
Today, B2M is working closely with Zebra on new go-to-market models with the vision of delivering visibility solutions to help companies improve productivity and deliver better experiences.
“In the mobile computing world, sensing is about everything that happens at the edge,” White says. “There are powerful computing devices today where I can sense audio. I can sense how many steps an employee takes. I can sense how many times they pulled the trigger and scanned or how many times they pulled the trigger and didn't scan.
“The intelligence and device metrics I gain from this platform are significant,” White continues. “We are driving more intelligence and making the data we're collecting more actionable. That’s where we're going with this.”
This actionable data is available on a wide variety of reports generated by the Elemez software that give real-time visibility into deployments to better manage devices. Compatible with any mobile device management software, Elemez automatically provides holistic, intelligent views of key attributes, including device disruptions, network connectivity, battery status and application utilization.
Following the TC55 rollout, Zebra plans to install Elemez on all of its new field devices as they become available.
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