Zebra knows it all, now

If you want to know what is happening in real time, ask Zebra.

We’re not talking about that funny-looking striped horse you see in the zoo. Zebra Technologies Corp. crafts real-time solutions for companies in a variety of markets. The company uses the same IT building blocks to sense, analyze and decide what to do in real time.

This can be applied across many different verticals, be it health care, logistics or retail. While the arrangements of those building blocks may differ by solution, the same thing will happen every time: the enterprise will “sense” what is happening via data input, “analyze” what is happening, then use that information to “act”. Zebra has a categorical name for this process: Enterprise Asset Intelligence.

“EAI for us is a new category in the market,” said Gary Singh, vice president for wireless LAN solutions at Zebra. “We are driving the definition of this category.” The system is being pitched under the banner of “Visibility that’s Visionary,” but in essence it means empowering the enterprise to know where all assets are and assign them to where they are most useful. This will vary from vertical market to vertical market. For readers of The Hub, the story gets interesting when EAI technology is applied to retail.

Zebra’s retail solution depends on the in-store WiFi and Bluetooth network. It will detect the shopper as they enter the store. But the same system will also track here they go and what they look at. It will also track sales associates, perhaps directing them where to go in the store to deal with the customer. That shopper’s sales history may flag them as a high-value customer, in which case an associate may want to pay more attention to what they want. That same information showing who is where might prompt the store manager to redeploy staff, or open up more cashiers. But most importantly, Zebra can tie store systems together so that they can talk to each other.

Singh explained it this way: a customer orders an item online for in-store pickup. That item has to be moved from a warehouse to a truck, sent to a store, unloaded, stocked or shelved, and be ready for pick-up when that customer arrives. “This improves the customer experience,” Singh said. “We want to be able to reduce errors and improve the overall experience.” The worst experience for the customer is going to the store and finding out the item they ordered is not there.

The building blocks that make up for EAI, or “Visibility that’s Visionary”, has two origins at Zebra. The first source is Zebra’s legacy business, which was making printers that generated bar codes. Zebra then acquired Motorola Solutions, which brought with it expertise in mobile technology, Singh explained.

The building blocks for EAI were already there. They just had to be arranged. At one end were the sensors—bar code readers and RFID sensors. Then came the business analytics that enabled decision-making. “Our biggest customers were asking for it,” Singh said. “The need was not for scanning or printing faster, but to know what is happening in the enterprise.”

Vital to delivering the real-time solution was the understanding of two trends. First was digitization, not just of the physical world but also knowing how this feeds into the smart phone the consumer is holding, Singh noted. Next, Zebra also had to understand what was happening in mobile, Internet of Things and the cloud, since these blocks would build the system that would gather and store the data that would permit analysis and action.

Bringing this all together required Zebra to understand the business operations of its customers, Singh continued. “Lots of different systems have to come together,” he said. That requires taking a holistic approach, not a piecemeal approach, to delivering a solution. And Zebra managed to apply this to retail, manufacturing, health care and transportation.

“Everything is now real time,” Singh said.

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