Information on the go - AIDC/Mobile Computing Special Technology report

Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with a number of leading spokespeople from the vendor and analyst communities about recent, current and possible future developments within the world of automatic identification & data capture and mobile computing technology.

Automatic identification & data capture (AIDC) solutions and mobile computers are developing apace. But, what are some of the key areas of development within this fast-changing technology space? Nandini Bhattacharya, industry manager – M&I- IPC Business Unit, Frost & Sullivan, observes that the market has changed both in terms of hardware and software. "On the hardware front, some of the examples of latest developments include the growth of beacons-based location tracking and monitoring, visual tags, wearable computers, high memory tags, and the growth of passive RFID sensors," she said. "On the software side, we are seeing transformations in terms of SaaS based models, complete software solution platforms that are able to support multiple protocols if required, increased IOT connectivity, Big Data and Cloud-based applications, android and iOS-based solutions. We may also see the combination of Blockchain along with RFID as a tool for higher degree of authenticity and accountability in the mid-term to long-term future."

Bhattacharya cites changing business needs and customer demands as the primary reasons for these changes. She also believes these changes can be attributed to the increased focus by RFID and RTLS players on product and technology innovations. "A lot of changes in the product and solution development has happened keeping in mind the customer experience factor. e.g: in the retail, and hospitality, customer experience and satisfaction is an important factor," she said. "Hence, it is extremely essential that retail and hospitality companies provide services that are able to enhance the experience of their customers and engage them. This has resulted into innovative ways the RFID and RTLS technology can be used."

Similarly, in case of healthcare, Bhattacharya maintains that patient safety and patient comfort are on the top of the agenda for the healthcare providers. "Hence, it is extremely essential that RFID and RTLS companies can design their solutions to better suit the needs," she said, adding that similar trends can be seen in other industries as well.

Andrew Briggs, technical director, BEC (Systems Integration) Ltd., comments that the Zebra TC8000 mobile touch computer is right in BEC's sweet spot in terms of vertical alignment, i.e. warehousing & manufacturing, with its tough form factor and rugged, tilted screen etc. Briggs adds that there is a lot of discussion around Android. "This is bringing the price of devices down, as customers are not paying for a Windows licence on a mobile device so the purchase price is cheaper," he said.

Regarding some of the key drivers for change, Briggs comments that in the case of the TC8000 it is very different to the 'norm' in terms of design, so this must be attributed to the vendor taking into account and listening to what users in warehousing and manufacturing environments need from a mobile device. He added that the scope of service and support contracts has also changed to cover abuse. "For example, if they drop it and break it, it's now covered as standard," he explained. "Also cost of contracts have dropped, and you can get three years cover very cheap if you buy it on day one."

Service, safety and satisfaction

Service, safety and satisfaction for patients and clinicians are the top priorities driving the mobility initiatives of leading healthcare organisations, according to a recent report by VDC Research. As patient satisfaction becomes increasingly important to insurance providers, consumers expect health service providers to offer the rapid response time, information access, and convenience of other consumer services.

The range of mobile hardware healthcare organisations rely on and have been benefitting from spans smartphones, handsets, wearables, notebooks and tablets (both consumer-oriented and purpose-built devices). The report also states that healthcare mobility offers significant benefits to healthcare providers as mobile solutions allow them to supply caregivers with a wealth of information while removing existing informational borders. Mobile applications have broad potential in terms of their functionality, including telemetry, e-prescribing, and patient monitoring. Applications available to healthcare providers enable easy reference and secure communication as well as access to patient information.

While healthcare organisations have stitched together patchworks of products and services to assist their health care professionals, VDC's research shows that these solutions have not yet delivered the desired level of effective communication. "Mobility adoption within healthcare environments presents a unique set of barriers because healthcare IT systems and databases are extremely fragmented, disconnected, and interoperable," said Spencer Gisser, research associate of enterprise mobility and connected devices, VDC Research. "This makes it extremely difficult for mobile solutions to seamlessly access the information healthcare professionals require to make critical decisions in real time."

Significant concerns related to privacy, security, and regulation still remain. According to VDC, events such as WannaCry's high-profile cyberattack on healthcare organisations and other institutions in May 2017 focused public attention on the need for improved safety measures. "Security and privacy concerns will continue to stifle healthcare mobility adoption until these issues are properly addressed," said Gisser.

Windows versus Android OS

Reg Koster, key account manager, warehousing, Datalogic UK&I, highlights that one of the key talking points at present for mobile computing is the Windows versus Android OS choice. "While historically Microsoft has been the operating system of choice within the industrial mobile computer market, Android has grown exponentially in the recent years, especially for applications outside the four walls," he said.

"There is no right or wrong answer here in terms of which to choose, as both operating systems have their merits. Some manufacturers have aligned completely with Android and as a result there are some misnomers arising around the Microsoft platform. For example, rumours that Microsoft will cease support for some versions of CE in a few short years may be discouraging companies from investing in the OS. Even if this does happen, a customer's systems will not stop working on that date. Furthermore, manufacturers like Datalogic, who are Microsoft gold partners, are guaranteed support for any fixes that may be needed after the last support for the general public, meaning that Datalogic customers are assured of support well beyond these dates."

Koster explains that Datalogic's current range of rugged pistol grip handhelds for the warehouse offer customers the choice of Microsoft's WEC7 operating system or Android, with the option for a customer buying WEC7 now to migrate their hardware platforms to Android at any point during the life of the devices, thus protecting their investment.

With regard to drivers behind these developments, Koster points out that initially the drive for Android was for the field force operatives employed at peak delivery periods (Oct to Dec) where the thinking was that they could implement BYOD and allow drivers to use their smart phones with the delivery software installed. "However, this never really took off as much as expected," he said. "What has been taken from this concept and one of the key drivers for Android is the familiarity of the operating system. Although users are given an industrial hand held mobile computer, the device and its user interface is very similar to the user's own smartphone. This results in better adoption rates and reduced training requirements."

Price, quality and features

Robert Hurt, general manager EMEA, Janam Technologies, reflects that in a world where you can get anything and everything on Alibaba or Amazon, price is being looked at more closely than ever before. "However, we often see 'fly-by-night' companies, and even the more well-known competition, stripping out key features to lower the price," he said, adding that Janam focuses on delivering highest-quality products with the right features and the right price.

Hurt considers that product design is another critical factor for enterprise organisations – and incorporating the latest technological advancements is table stakes. "In addition to having a powerful processor and an operating system that is capable of running complex business applications, organisations need a device that is specially designed to withstand the rigours of everyday use in challenging environments," he said. Hurt also maintains that screen real estate is important, as mobile workers are reviewing and processing more data and information than ever before.

One of the biggest challenges technology vendors face is the perceived and often unverified need to stay ahead of the technology curve. In the case of operating systems, Hurt explains that Janam works closely with its partners to educate corporations so they understand that they can continue to deploy relevant, secure and efficient solutions without necessarily having to chase the latest operating system. "From an enterprise perspective, we find that established versions that are tried, tested, proven and reliable are solid enough and forward/backward compatible enough to be deployed safely into enterprise environments," he said.

Hurt added that Janam also sees more demand for purpose-built accessories to expand the performance of rugged mobile computers in the enterprise. "With safety and productivity in mind, organisations need a variety of solutions to keep their devices secure, fully charged and easily accessible," he said. "This is especially the case in a manufacturing environment where heavy equipment is moving rapidly. Vehicle mount cradle designed with the warehouse or manufacturing facility in mind should withstand shock and vibration and keep the device securely in place. We've also found that some organisations want to use the same device for multiple applications. Offering a snap-on trigger handle for PDA-style devices has addressed these demands for companies that don't require a gun-shaped mobile computer all of the time. We've recently introduced these accessories for our XT2 and XM75 series of rugged touch screen mobile computers."

RFID

Danielle Dawson, senior consultant, Capgemini Consulting, makes the point that the GS1 DataMatrix allowing retailers to connect a barcode to RFID has opened the door to many more possibilities, such as using more RFID for security. "Retails know the exact electronic product code (EPC) they have captured at the till point, so they can sent a message to their gates not to alarm them as goods go through, or they can send a message to alarm the gates if goods didn't go through the till point because the products hadn't been sold," she explained. "Also, companies can now have a better understanding regarding conversion rates and returns. For example, if products are consistently going through the till point but are being returned retailers can easily determine that these products relate to a faulty batch that came from supplier A, whereas all products from the batch supplied by supplier B are going through and not being returned because there is no problem with them. So, retailers can have a better understanding of purchases and conversion rates if they are able to capture that information at the till point. This is opening doors to many more ideas and some really interesting use cases."

Dawson points out that another talking point is around using RFID sensors positioned in the ceiling to understand, for example, how products have moved around the shop floor, which areas have products that are out of stock, which areas are potentially the main shrinkage catchment areas and which products are selling better. "In this way, retails can start to understand how better to maximise sales and increase security," she said. "This is definitely an area where more retailers are currently moving to in order to better understand their shop floors. The key here is using other types of technology to create more interesting use cases; for example, using RFID with different sensors such as visuals to create 3D planograms. This can be especially beneficial for clothing retailers because a lot of them don't have planograms to work with so getting that retention on the shop floor is often very difficult, especially for the more high-density retailers – it can be a lot easier for the more high fashion outlets because they have smaller size categories that they put out. 3D planograms can also help you to better understand the movement of customers through the shop and understand which products they are picking up. They can even help you track your employees' movements better."

Another RFID-related trend, according to Dawson, can be seen in the US where there is a push within retail to use RFID to do fulfilment for online orders in store. "Whereas previously many companies jumped on the RFID journey to get good stock empathy (still the primary reason), because distribution centres in the US can be so geographically far from each other they are trying to make their stores more like fulfilment centres; having RFID there and being able to pick the right products for customers within short periods of time and make sure an online order completely filled to perfection has become a really big push in the US. In the UK it's a lot less so, but that's mostly because distribution centres are less spread out across the country and you can physically get a product from the distribution centre within a day in many cases."

In terms of drivers for change, Dawson think one of the key factors for RFID adoption is that it is now a more affordable solution. Additionally, she adds that the beauty of RFID is it creates an abundance of useful data. "It's what you do with that data that can give you the business benefits," she said. "So, if you are able to use that data to better understand where potentially suppliers aren't supporting you as best they should or where there have been mistakes made you could use this information to improve things. And checking orders as they come in becomes more accurate with RFID. With RFID you have the ability to do a 100% check of what products are delivered for quality and accuracy purposes. So, using RFID make sense to be able to check your suppliers' performance better."

Dawson added that this can also have a positive knock-on effect throughout the supply chain. "If suppliers know there is going to be data that could show they are in the wrong they know they need to ensure they deliver the right products to you because there's going to be evidence against them if they don't," she said.

Chris Devault, head of software selection, Panorama Consulting Solutions, comments that organisations are leveraging RFID and standard RF barcode in mixed modes. Supply chain vendors often dictate what is possible by the tags/labels they are providing on their product. As companies are adopting standardised or best practice processes they must be flexible in the use of what technology can be used. Creating a starting point with a plan to increase the adoption of functionality in phases is critical. Employees need to know why they are doing what they are doing and the ripple effect down/upstream within the business.

Hurt observes that RFID adoption is on the rise. "At less than ten cents per tag, some organisations are recouping their RFID investment costs in as little as six months, making the return on investment increasingly evident," he said "As the cost of tags drops, the value proposition of RFID-based data capture deployments increases, and RFID is expanding as a result. But the question remains: how does this affect your business, the businesses you work with, and the future as a whole?

"In the past few years, RFID use has continued to expand not just in retail, but in warehouse, manufacturing and freight industries as well. More and more organisations are seeing and reaping the benefits of its increased tracking and management capabilities, its wide potential, from freight and inventory management to customer service applications, and its steadily increasing ROI. As RFID expands, we see new applications both inside and outside of those industries, making it worth investigation for nearly any type of business where product, inventory, or movement is concerned."

In response, many of Janam's products come equipped with RFID and NFC reading capabilities. "The new XT100 rugged smartphone and XM75 rugged mobile computer include integrated RFID/NFC readers to ensure organisations can address a full spectrum of data capture needs with one device," explained Hurt. "With best-in-class read range these devices help companies cut costs, improve customer service, reduce labour, increase accuracy and improve production throughput."

In terms of some of the drivers for the types of changes he has cited, Hurt comments that the evolution of the smartphone market has not only increased awareness of, and familiarity with, mobile computing, but also continues to shape perception of what a mobile computing device should do or look like. "The growing number of millennials in the workplace is also found to be shaping the workplace to meet their needs and driving modern trends – hence more emphasis on smaller devices, but with large screens that can run multiple applications at any given time."

Hurt pointed out that growing demand for Android has played a key role in the many changes that have been seen to the mobile computing market and how manufacturers are addressing end-user requirements. "We've seen Android progress from the dominant consumer operating system and an 'innovative alternative' to Microsoft's Windows Embedded Handheld offering, to become an established and mainstream option," he said. "We see a clear path for Android to eventually be the dominant choice for mobile computing needs – and we expect that path to be fairly short. With that in mind, Janam continues to offer more choices for its customers. With support for the widely deployed Android 6 operating system, the new XT100 and XM75 mobile computers offer an intuitive, well-regarded user interface to help reduce training time and drive immediate productivity gains for businesses of all sizes. Certification of Google Mobile Services (GMS) ensures XT100 and XM75 users have access to all Google APIs, including those for Google Play, Google Maps and Chrome."

Hurt reflects that for quite some time it looked as if BYOD would deter growth of the mobile computing (AIDC) industry but believes a number of factors have mitigated against this and driven development of a new generation of rugged mobile computers. These factors include:

  • The need for high-performance, reliable barcode and RFID reading that is not available in consumer devices.
  • The requirement for purpose-built, rugged devices capable of withstanding the rigours of everyday use in a business environment.
  • The demand for easy, reliable and rapid charging – inside and outside the four walls.
  • The critical need for immediate, responsive and effective service and support to ensure technological issues can be addressed in real-time and damaged units get repaired and back in to action quickly.

Back-office dynamic

In terms of the relationship between AIDC/mobile computer/RFID systems and back-office systems, what have been some of the key recent changes? Bhattacharya believes the growth of the Internet of things has changed the way industries are operating now. "In the age of Industry 4.0 we have the smarter version of everything – smart transportation, smart logistics, smart manufacturing, smart supply chain and so on," she said.

However, the biggest change that has happened and is continuing to happen, according to Bhattacharya, is greater connectivity between the different modules and systems. "The latest generation RFID/RTLS solutions are able to integrate and function seamlessly with the existing ERP, CRM, WMS and other available back-end systems," she pointed out.

Devault makes the point that organisations of all sizes continue to increase the use of and integration with AIDC/Mobile computer/RFID applications. "One of the reasons for the continuing increasing adoption of these applications is the ROI is easy to identify and implementation usually less complex than other IT/Process Improvement," he said. "Benefits are realised quicker than other improvements throughout the business. More and more AIDC applications are embedded into ERP allowing the flow of information to be more streamlined rather than having to build integrations which can limit the use of the data going into back office systems."

In terms of the relationship between mobile computing technology and back-office systems, Koster is seeing a continued drive towards closer integration of the disparate systems as well as a focus on improving network infrastructure. "In today's digital economy, everything is becoming faster," he said. "Customers are demanding quicker response times and more visibility. The process of capturing data is also getting faster, particularly with the introduction of industrial automation and vision systems. Data can be quickly and accurately captured and transmitted at any and every stage of the supply chain to guarantee seamless tracking and traceability. However, to meet the demands from customers for improved visibility and for companies to continue improving their processes, they need access to the data and the analytics behind that data in an instant. To achieve this goal, it is vital that an organisation's systems integrate more closely than ever before and that the network infrastructure is agile and robust enough to manage the large volumes of traffic that need to pass through it."

Hurt reflects that upgrading legacy software applications has historically been a costly and time-consuming process. However, he reminds us that we have recently seen an increase in legacy systems migration due to three market shifts:

  • Rapid Mobile Application Development services, like Xamarin, have accelerated the process of mobile app development. Enterprise organisations can now build and manage internal and customer-facing applications that integrate into existing systems in a fraction of the time it had taken a decade or even 1-2 years ago.
  • Organisations are also finding that the availability of Cloud-based third-party solutions are strengthening their ability to deploy new applications. Applications built on open standard technologies can run on any device with an HTML5-enabled browser. These newly developed apps are less expensive to implement and maintain than legacy apps.
  • There is greater corporate acceptance of the need for outsourcing. We are seeing end users look more closely at packaged solutions because time and money is a major factor in their decision-making process. Traditional in-house development is often being rejected, as it is a much slower and more costly path.

"Historically, mobile device software was customised to show a subset of the data that an operator would have seen on their desktop ERP or WMS terminal," explained Hurt. "The larger size and greater pixel definition of today's mobile device screens, combined with the ability to 'pinch to zoom', means users expect to see, and can manage, more complex applications on their portable terminals.

"The smaller form factors and added flexibility of today's devices means they can be used for multiple purposes and taken between different environments. The same device used for stock checking in a warehouse, or loading a vehicle, can be taken out on the road to make deliveries and take receipt signatures from end customers."

Dawson believes integration has become a lot easier over the past few years than it's ever been previously. "I think the main reason is that software companies have done a really good job in investing in Cloud-based platforms as well as APIs," she said. "This makes an RFID system very easy to integrate now."

Improved user benefits

What have been the subsequent benefit improvements for the user (for example, in terms of more open systems, improved middleware, improvements in wireless communications, developments in wireless standards, etc.).

Bhattacharya considers that end users are now experiencing greater efficiency and faster ROI. "The latest solution offerings are often custom made, can be changed as per the end user requirements, are easy to install and deploy, sometimes just plug-and-play, and function seamlessly," she said. "The latest solutions are often combination of different technologies and are capable of providing both close proximity data in terms of location as well as high read range in terms of coverage of wide areas. The Big Data and Analytics solutions clubbed with the RFID/RTLS solutions allow easy management of huge volume of data being generated and convert the data into meaningful business information."

Briggs points to faster implementations with better middleware, less modifications (BEC's eSmart Voice WMS solution, for example) – giving a broader functionality to middleware etc.

Koster believes the benefits for the user are simply an ability to carry out tasks without suffering the frustrations of a slow or inflexible network – waiting several seconds for a response per worker is simply unacceptable. "By ensuring that the supporting infrastructure is ready to cope with the amount of traffic going over the network at peak trading times, companies can ensure maximum uptime for staff and can gain access to valuable insights and analysis that will inform business decisions," he said.

Hurt maintains that the rapid ROI outweighs the cost associated with updating legacy applications. "Organisations can now operate in a more productive fashion as they use resources more efficiently and stay up to date on industry requirements and regulations," he said. "The ability to share information is now made much easier as more modern systems are designed to foster interactions between devices seamlessly:

  • Modern Cloud-based solutions are flexible and help organisations adapt quickly to frequently changing business needs. They also provide a more intuitive user experience that reduces training time and results in faster productivity gains.
  • Services like Google Mobile Services (GMS) provide users with access to thousands of applications which can be easily downloaded to a rugged mobile computer or even integrated with existing applications.
  • Application development is also simplified. Creating a route planning solution? Simply interface to Google Maps.
  • Integration is also improved when using more modern ERP, CRM and WMS solutions. Many CRM packages have now been reformatted to display as easily on a mobile terminal as they do on a desktop."

Success stories

What do some of our contributors consider to be a few of their most noteworthy solution case studies?

Janam – GENILINK

Hurt reports that Janam's XT2 Rugged Touch Computer beat a dozen competitive devices from eight different mobile computing companies to win a multi-year supply agreement with GENILINK, a subsidiary of SGS, a leading automotive inspection, certification and testing company. GENILINK is to deploy more than 3000 XT2s to improve its vehicle inspection processes. Playing a critical role in road safety and environmental protection, the company sought a rugged mobile solution that could provide maximum uptime, reliability and accuracy. With more than 7 million vehicle tests conducted annually, GENILINK selected Janam's XT2 to help optimise workflows and ultimately reduce the time spent on each inspection.

Jeremie Becker, procurement manager, GENILINK said: "After conducting a thorough review of twelve consumer- and enterprise-class devices from the leading vendors in the data capture industry, we felt that Janam's XT2 was the clear winner. In addition, in terms of customer care and operating philosophy, Janam was the ideal partner for GENILINK. More than 4000 GENILINK operators will be using Janam's XT2 rugged mobile computers to ensure vehicle compliance to safety standards in France and the Ivory Coast."

An SGS employee and XT2 user also stated: "What I appreciate is the XT2's small size and superior ergonomics. I also appreciate its speed, wi-fi connectivity and exceptional battery life. The XT2's compact size allows for better handling of the device. This speeds inspection processes and ultimately saves us time. I also really like the integrated flashlight. It provides batter visibility which is important for us when looking for serial numbers below the seats of vehicles or under the dashboard. It's a device perfectly adapted to our job."

Datalogic – ModusLink

From its distribution centre in the Netherlands, ModusLink is using vision technology for quality inspections. ModusLink carries out logistics operations for a range of major clients including full service fulfilment. For every order processed for one of its clients, ModusLink performs a 100% weight inspection and until recently, the orders, which range from 10 to 10,000 units per order were randomly inspected to ensure the correct labelling, part numbers and text were present on the packing. In total the number of inspection points could reach more than 100 per order.

This manual quality control process, which took place across four production lines required a large number of quality control staff and cost a lot of time and therefore a lot of money. ModusLink took on four systems; one for each production line. Each system carries Datalogic's cameras, one to 'read' the top of the packaging and one for the side, and a Datalogic Gryphon barcode scanner. In addition, the system automatically and dynamically checks the weight of each order it processes.

ModusLink estimates that they have been able to save up to 40% on FTEs but most importantly the solution has enabled the company to realise 100% inspections without having to make any concessions to productivity.

BEC – Horseware

Horseware Ireland, one of the world's most well-known designers and manufacturers of riding wear, leisure wear, horse rugs, equestrian products and accessories. The company has offices in North America and factories in China and Cambodia, while its sales, marketing and financial headquarters, as well as its factory and European warehouse, reside on a 175, 000² ft. site in Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland.

Due to a period of expansion and rapid business growth, Horseware gradually became unable to keep up with the ever-increasing volume of orders with the paper-based method it was using to record the movement of goods in, around and out of the warehouse. This was creating issues with order picking, order accuracy and stock replenishment, which in turn was resulting in customer service and time management issues.

After completing a thorough data capture audit of Horseware's warehousing facility, which included gaining a full understanding of all the operational processes, BEC recommended its eSmart Warehouse with Voice software solution. Philip Jarrett, director of sales and marketing at BEC, explained: "Conceptually, Voice-directed technology is very similar to traditional RF scanning, but prompts are delivered and responses are provided verbally. The Honeywell Vocollect Voice solution can help businesses increase worker productivity by up to 35%, whilst reducing errors by up to 50%."

BEC's eSmart Warehouse with Voice solution has been developed with Voice technology at its core rather than as an add-on feature, allowing Horseware to use the benefits of Vocollect Voice solutions throughout its warehousing facility, specifically within its picking, put-away, stock replenishment, despatch and replenishment operations.

Horseware selected the Honeywell Vocollect A710 Talkman device and the SRX2 advanced speech recognition wireless headset, having been particularly impressed with the built-in Vocollect TouchConnect technology. This allows workers to quickly pair wireless headsets to the mobile devices, thereby reducing shift start-up procedures from minutes to seconds. The solution also provides other time saving features, such as battery runtime remaining, allowing workers to ask the Vocollect device when a battery change may be needed, helping them to plan and eliminate unnecessary travel time in the midst of completing an order.

David Minto, warehouse & retail manager, Horseware, said: "In terms of our operational processes, we are experiencing increased efficiencies and a tangible reduction in errors. The new solution 'just works'. As far as BEC is concerned, they have been fantastic to work with. We feel that as a business, thanks to the new BEC solution, we have future-proofed ourselves for the next ten years and will be able to continue to grow and become more and more profitable as time goes by – the sky's the limit for us now."

Security-related labour

Increasing connectivity and IoT device adoption has exposed embedded systems to new security threats that could severely hinder business operations and risk the safety of humans or embedded devices. These threats are forcing OEMs to actively address security as part of development and are guiding the creation of new practices. A recent VDC report looks at the portion of OEMs' in-house labour expenditure that is consumed by vulnerability mitigation efforts.

While more OEMs recognise the escalating repercussions of software security vulnerabilities, action to mitigate these risks has been minimal or, in some cases, non-existent. Even among those who rated security as 'extremely important', nearly 8% of their organisations were taking no action to address these potential risks. Still, a growing number of companies are setting aside money from their budgets to find, fix, and prevent systems vulnerabilities.

Data from VDC's IoT and Embedded Engineer survey confirms that a significant portion of OEMs' existing in-house labour cost is already dedicated to addressing security. "These expenses are rising much faster than the overall cost of development, which reinforces the criticality of including security-related labour in budgetary planning," said Andre Girard, senior analyst of IoT and embedded technology, VDC.

The report states that the worldwide embedded engineering labour spend specifically associated with security was $11.6B in 2017. This represents almost 8% of the overall cost of embedded engineering labour. "Security-related spending is accelerating rapidly as awareness of the scope and severity of potential vulnerabilities rises, and the growth in IoT deployments increases both the quantity of possible targets and the volume of attack surfaces," explained Girard.

On a broader level, VDC states that the urgency of providing robust software security necessitates wide-ranging organisational involvement. "Proactive steps must be applied across the full development lifecycle by a larger pool of stakeholders to manage an increased pace of software releases and more complex code bases," said Girard. "OEMs should include knowledge of security vulnerabilities and risks in the training of all engineering teams so that it can influence decisions and actions made throughout the design and development lifecycle."

Data protection re-think

BYOD has faded from being a headline initiative for CIOs, but support for personally owned devices used at work continues to expand. Research by Gartner analyst, Chris Silva, shows that more than 70% of users are not being provided a smartphone by their employer. A changing legal environment and user push-back on onerous device controls have forced organisations to rethink how company data can be protected on users' devices that cannot or will not be enrolled in a traditional device management construct. This finding was supported in Gartner's 2017 'Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Mobility Management Suites', where surveyed buyers cited the ability to manage apps as the top driver for their investment.

Adding to the challenges posed by BYOD, third-party mobile apps and the workflows they enable are at the heart of digital transformation. Pushing beyond mobile email, contact and calendar access also drives interest in methods for managing apps and data that are independent of managing the device with a mobile device management (MDM) profile. I&O leaders aiming to scale mobility to support digital transformation dependent on a host of new apps, devices and platforms will be hamstrung by policies focused on device control and configuration alone.

The tangential trend of placing PCs and mobile devices under a common management console – Gartner calls this third evolution of tools 'unified endpoint management (UEM)' – will force all organisations to review policies and processes for managing their endpoints, with the outcomes of modernised governance, processes and policies driving interest in more comprehensive tools or alternatives to existing MDM tools.

Market implications:

Silva reports that the resulting market impact of BYOD, a greater focus on third-party apps and the ability to address a broader set of endpoints with a single tool will result in governance and process changes that ignite a market for tools that address emerging needs:

  • A single policy for all mobile users globally, whether using company-supplied devices or BYOD, is no longer adequate. Multiple policies and tools that can enforce multiple policy groups, including app-specific containment of data, will challenge the use case of traditional MDM or basic management tools, such as Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync policies.
  • Mobilising commonly used apps, such as an office suite, in the case of Office 365, will require a change in management approach, or a reconsideration of using device-level management at all.
  • Traditional client management processes, such as standard imaging, will be deprecated by the pace and cadence of platform updates, and by the ability to customise commodity OS builds on the fly using EMM and their successors, UEM tools, which will increase the importance of visibility and control at the app and data level.

Silva adds that the change in approach from device-centric to app- and data-centric policies will not be served by a change in tools alone. The skills and training required to equip a mobile and endpoint computing team will need to be refreshed and expanded.

An increased interest in data-level protections also will be an outgrowth of these organic changes in endpoint management, driving interest and input from security and risk organisations into how mobile and endpoint governance is operationalised. This will drive interest in the integration points of UEM and EMM tools, specifically with data protection and identity infrastructure.

The requirement for complete UEM capabilities in the average enterprise will not take shape until 2020. However, cross-training endpoint or client computing teams in the use of EMM tools in a UEM use case (managing mobile and PC endpoints) and determining a migration path from traditional client management tasks, should begin now.

Starting an audit of governance and the resulting policy and enforcement tool changes will be a time-intensive task, but one demanded by the evolving legal environment around how mobile policies are enacted, data is protected and user information is treated. Involving legal and HR resources, from policy design through vetting and implementing tools, is critical. As part of the policy modernisation, expand to support platforms such as Google's Android, which allows a greater degree of app-level controls than Apple's iOS.

In cases where EMM/UEM suites are already being used more broadly to support multiple, separate management models based on device ownership or use case, a near-term priority should be reviewing the efficacy of these tools in this role, as well as their ability to rise to the challenge of UEM. In some cases, support for app-level data and transport protections can be achieved through tools included in other investment areas or as part of existing enterprise agreements.

Recommendations

Recommendations highlighted by Silva are:

  • Identify inflexible policy control points by reviewing existing policies for mobile management that rely on device hardware restrictions. Expand beyond IT to legal, risk and HR teams to vet existing policies.
  • Replace policies – and, if necessary, tools – that focus on device-level management for personally owned devices with those that focus on app-level control points to avoid legal exposure and anemic user adoption of BYOD.
  • Prepare for the consolidation of management by auditing incumbent EMM tools to determine their ability to provide support for app- and data-level protections and their ability to meet the expanded set of capabilities required for UEM.

Replace applications with ones that enable contextual management of data to improve data security.

Converging technology

Bhattacharya makes the point that the convergence of different technologies makes a solution more robust and we will see such solutions more often in the coming days. "Businesses have different needs depending upon the application requirements and one technology may not be the best option always," she said. "In such a scenario, a combination of different technologies can provide better results."

Briggs explains there is more functionality wrapped up as standard in most modern devices – scanning & Voice-enabled. "A730 device from Honeywell Vocollect, for example, is a Voice device with a built-in scanner – a few years ago you had to choose whether you wanted a scanner or a camera etc., but now you can have both," he said.

Hurt observes that organisations are increasing their technology investments to automate workflows, improve workforce productivity and ultimately enhance customer service. "Mobile workers are seeking devices that enable better communication and more collaboration, shifting from a reactive to a proactive service model," he said. "As technologies evolve, customers no longer need to compromise style and size for functionality and reliability. Devices like Janam's XT100 and XM75 come equipped with the latest technological advancements to help mobile workers to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, all with a style that is sleek and cutting-edge."

Hurt adds that wide-area Voice capability is now integrated into most rugged mobile computers, whereas in the past a mobile worker needed to carry a mobile phone and a separate device for data collection. He also makes the point that built-in GPS provides added value for workers on the road. "Integrated barcode-, RFID- and NFC- reading addresses all data capture needs in one device, while empowering mobile workers with the tools they need to improve inventory management and traceability operations," he said.

Remaining concerns

Are there any key remaining concerns regarding the use of AIDC/Mobile Computing/RFID systems? Bhattacharya reflects that with the growth of the Internet of Things there is a greater challenge of security. "Different security protocols need to be implemented to maintain data security across different IoT devices," she said.

Koster considers that as warehouse operations increase in size and volume, invariably high-speed conveyor belts with fixed positions scanners will be needed. He believes Datalogic is unique in its position as a major manufacturer able to take customers through the entire journey from mobile computers to high speed fixed readers. "Often, the ideal solution is a mix of both types of scanning technologies and when implemented effectively can drive huge efficiencies," he said.

Briggs makes the point that there could be a potential security issue if 'Bring your own device' (BYOD) equipment being used for company purposes is mis-used or stolen. "This is why we supply mobile device management software to allow them to be remotely locked down and wiped," he explained.

Hurt remembers that in the early days of Android there was concern that the operating system didn't carry the same level of security that Microsoft provided with its Windows products. "Google has put great emphasis on safeguarding Android for the enterprise," he said. "In addition, more tools are available to help deliver more robust security and manageability."

The future

What might be the next innovations/developments to look out for over the next year or two regarding the AIDC/Mobile Computing/RFID space? Bhattacharya considers that developments will happen in terms of lower power consumption and greater mobility of the hardware. She adds that wearable computers are gaining traction and this trend of developing light weight and smaller form factor hardware would continue. Also, according to Bhattacharya, software platforms will change significantly due to IoT and Cloud connectivity. "As the businesses models are changing fast, we will see significant transformations in the mid- to long-term future," she said.

Devault believes innovations in this space will continue to reduce the cost of the devices, software and tags. "Organisations in the food & beverage space have higher adoption rates than common commodities," he said. "Organisations are looking for ways to increase RFID usage but cannot solve issues related to cost/availability/volume. Companies are looking to make the onsite production of RFID tags quick/simple/easy like their current label printing. RFID allows for organisations to optimise the flow of product/material coming in the door, movements throughout manufacturing and warehouses all the way to shipping."

Briggs considers that vendors may come up with less-traditional form factors, taking the TC8000 as a leading example. He also believes the Internet of Things will continue to have an influence in terms of how data is collected and how devices will be able to talk to a wider variety of machinery, equipment etc. to capture Big Data.

A key trend in both logistics and ecommerce retailers, according to Koster, is the need for DWS (dimension and weigh systems). "This is where packages coming in or out of the warehouse are scanned at speed for their exact dimensions and weight – as logistics companies charge the retailer by the weight/size, and retailers want to control this data themselves," he explained. Koster is also seeing increased adoption for camera solutions that enable an image of a parcel to be taken as the item moves from one stakeholder to another. "The driver behind these solutions are the ability to track damage – so if an arrives damaged at final destination, there is an ability to track where the damage may have occurred," he said.

Hurt believes RFID will continue to be a key technology to watch as the Internet of Things continues to grow, and organisations seek even more ways to connect different areas of their business. "The potential for IoT is huge and businesses of all sizes are clamouring for the widespread connectivity it enables across different platforms," he said. "Real-world uses of RFID, as part of an IoT strategy, will continue to expand – offering a highly effective way for businesses of all sizes to decrease labour costs, improve data accuracy and drive substantial productivity gains."

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