Warehouse Mobility Upgrades Accelerate

ARC’s research on the global WMS market identified today’s warehouse technology investments that were highest on investment priority lists (see WMS Product Development Roadmaps). Warehouse mobility investments including upgrades and replacements was high on that list.

ARC and DC Velocity recently launched an online survey to obtain detailed insights into the topic, including current use and future plans for use of various mobile operating systems (OS), the relative importance of mobile OS capabilities, the range of current mobile WMS in use, value of various scanning capabilities, complementary technologies in use (voice recognition, wireless communications), and more. We encourage qualified practitioners to take the survey, and we will provide those participants with a summary of our findings as a sign of our appreciation (please find survey link at end of this article).

What We Know

Mobile handheld computers and scanners have served a critical role in real-time WMS for a couple decades. But today’s warehouse environment is different. Mobile device replacements and mobile application upgrades have accelerated considerably. The growth in smart phone use over the last five years has occurred at a rate that is virtually unprecedented. This growth in use has made the touchscreen interfaces of Android and iOS devices widely familiar to the masses. In addition, smart phones and the associated operating systems provide useful tools for application development and accessories such as a camera that can serve as a barcode scanner (Although the embedded cameras with scanning apps do work, they don’t provide the same speed and accuracy as traditional scanners. But some organizations have worked around this shortcoming through the use of scanners with a Blue Tooth connection to the mobile devices). It was only time until these consumer mobility advances backfilled into the warehouse, displacing legacy technologies. But Microsoft helped accelerate the evolution by announcing that it will stop supporting its Windows CE and Mobile operation systems that have served as the backbone of warehouse mobile computing. Although Microsoft has released Windows 10 IoT, its adoption appears limited in the warehouse, at least anecdotally.

waerhouse mobility

The development of warehouse applications for Android and iOS began as a cost-effective way to provide intuitive picking applications to seasonal warehouse staff. The familiar and intuitive user-interface simplified and shortened training and allowed workers to become productive very quickly. Also, the apps ran on low cost hardware that enabled operations to further reduce the variable costs of seasonal worker staffing. But the use of handhelds running Android has expanded substantially. Zebra and Honeywell now offer lines of ruggedized, high performance handhelds running Android. However, the data that we have collected so far from our online survey shows that about 70% of respondents say that the majority of their warehouse handhelds are currently running Windows. In contrast, none of the respondents say that the majority of their warehouse handhelds are currently running Android. These preliminary results suggest that any transition is in its infancy and many organizations are still relying heavily on devices running Windows Mobile/CE. However, our preliminary results do show that many organizations anticipate growth in Android device usage in their warehouses. In fact, 56 percent of our preliminary respondents expect to increase usage of Android devices over the next three years. But 36 percent also expect increased usage of Microsoft devices. This feedback suggests to me that the Android conquest of mobility in the warehouse is not a foregone conclusion as some commentaries suggest.

What We Will Find Out

The final results to ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocity’s research on mobility in the modern warehouse will provide feedback from a larger sample than the preliminary results noted in this article. It will provide insights into the prevalence of current mobile OS usage and expectations for the future. It will also provide insights into the relative importance of mobile operating system features and capabilities to practitioners, as well as the value of certain scanning capabilities. It will discuss mobile application usage, networking capabilities, and corporate mobility strategies. As a reminder, qualified respondents will receive a complimentary copy of the survey results upon completion.

If you are a qualified practitioner, and you would like to take this survey, please click on the link below:

Survey: Mobile Computing in the Modern Warehouse

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at creiser@arcweb.com.