Finding New Opportunities For Handheld Data Collection Terminals
Touch screen-based handheld computers are catching on in grocery and retail. Two industry observers discuss why, as well as ways that VARs can increase their sales.
Radio frequency (RF) handheld computers that incorporate touch screens are gaining popularity in nontraditional markets like retail and grocery, according to one industry observer. Handheld, RF data collection computers - which are most commonly used in warehouses - are also changing the way retail and grocery store managers do their jobs.
Retail and grocery managers need to be on the floor as much as possible to assist employees, says Barry Issberner, senior director, business development for Symbol Technologies, Inc. Historically, however, store managers have had to sit at personal computers (PCs) in back offices to obtain sales or inventory information. Attempting to balance those requirements often created a dilemma for managers.
Touch screen-based, handheld (portable) computers give managers the flexibility to access information while on the floor. Another benefit to touch screen units is that they can display pie charts and bar graphs. Touch screen handheld units have reflective displays that, themselves, are about 5" wide by 5" high. Conversely, keyboard-based terminals, which have small liquid crystal displays (LCDs), can only display numbers and letters. (Most manufacturers only began offering touch screen-based units in the last few years).
Issberner says, "A bar graph allows managers to more quickly know which items at the front of the store are selling well. Stocking the ‘right' items at the front can increase a store's sales."
Handheld Computing Trends
Another issue impacting AIDC VARs is the recent introduction of new standards for RF terminals and wireless local and wide area networks (LANs and WANs). According to Scott Cardais, president of Hand Held Products, two interoperability standards have been introduced. Both Hand Held Products (Charlotte, NC) and Symbol (Holtsville, NY) manufacture portable, wireless terminals.
A consortium of RF vendors known as the Wireless LAN Interoperability Forum (WLIF) has introduced one standard. The WLIF is made up of Proxim and its OEM customers, like Intermec Technologies Corp., Hand Held Products, LXE and Data General. Proxim manufactures access points for wireless networks; its OEM customers manufacture portable, RF terminals.
The IEEE 802.11 standard also has been approved. (Both standards are intended to provide greater compatibility between products from different vendors).
According to Cardais, the standard introduced by the WLIF provides greater interoperability between wireless systems and peripherals. "Right now, few products are IEEE 802.11 compliant, although that is quickly changing," Cardais says. "However, there is a wide selection of WLIF-compliant products."
The introduction of such standards places a significant educational requirement on VARs. According to Cardais, VARs should insist that their vendors provide training. "Because the education requirement necessary to sell and support products is significant, VARs shouldn't try to ‘learn on the job.'"
VAR Action Points
Cardais and Issberner suggest several ways for VARs and integrators to increase their sales, including:
Limit your focus - Cardais says VARs should develop expertise in one market, or a limited number of markets. "Customers are more inclined to buy from VARs that specialize in their market," he says. "And, VARs that attempt to be everything to all customers deliver fragmented marketing messages."
Focus on application differences - According to Issberner, many data collection terminals offer similar features. As a result, he says VARs should focus on the value of their applications, rather than leading with the specs of the portable computers they offer.
For example, VARs should promote the unique aspects of their systems for applications like warehouse management. Such systems also include software, and possibly complementary technologies like electronic data interchange. "A common mistake VARs make is leading with the hardware sale - which invites competition - rather than leading with their unique application features," Issberner adds. "Many VARs have developed innovative ways for users to handle their business problems."
Avoid customized software - VARs that customize their software for customers generally have a difficult time profiting from it, according to Cardais. Rather, he says VARs should develop a standard, off-the-shelf software package that can accommodate very minor modifications for different customers.
"It's cost effective for a VAR to have an $80,000-a-year programmer customizing software for 100 customers, but not just one customer. And it's difficult for a programmer to be familiar with the nuances of 100 different packages."