Real-Time Data Collection: Do Your Customers Really Need It?
Not every company needs real-time wireless data collection. But, is there money to be made with batch data collection?
Everyone has their own definition of wireless mobile computing. Most of the debate is likely to revolve around the actual transmission of the data - is it collected and sent in real time or is it sent periodically via a wired cradle? While most people today tend to lean toward the former definition, the fact is the two scenarios are synonymous.
But, what about the data collection devices? For a piece of hardware to fall under the category of mobile computing, does it need to have some actual computing power? What about a basic wireless handheld scanner used in a POS (point of sale) environment? Is that an example of a wireless mobile computing device? In my mind, the answer is yes. In fact, as long as a device is wireless and collecting data, it should be considered under the category of wireless mobile computing.
Be Sure To Compare Equally Between Batch And Real-Time Systems
The truth is, batch data collection is becoming overshadowed by the public's infatuation with (and sometimes reliance on) real-time data transmission technologies. But, not every company needs real-time data or inventory visibility. Moreover, wireless real-time systems have traditionally been more expensive than their batch counterparts. That point, though, is changing.
"Although the cost of real-time wireless is decreasing, there is still an average of 150% price difference between batch and real-time data collection terminals," said Maurice Waters, United States manager of Syntech West (Seattle). Syntech, also known as Cipher Lab, manufactures data collection terminals, scanners and other AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) peripherals. "However, it's hard to compare costs since you need to take into consideration the additional hardware such as access points and cradles each of these types of connectivity require."
Is Batch Data Collection A Dying Technology?
According to research firm Venture Development Corp. (VDC), the falling prices of portable data collection devices and the acceptance of the 802.11b WLAN (wireless LAN) standard have hindered batch terminal sales. Is this a foreshadowing of the end of batch data collection? "Even in the future there will be a need for batch," said Mike Marsh, director of mobile computing for Psion Teklogix, Inc. (Mississauga, Ontario). "Unfortunately, though, VARs still tend to emphasize the purchase price of a batch data collection device rather than its total cost of ownership. For example, they need to consider the costs to repair a device or even replace PDA (personal digital assistant)-type devices that are commonly stolen."
Likewise, a VAR should help a customer determine whether real-time data collection is essential. Who is seeing this data and how often? Are immediate inventory or operational decisions being made based upon the feedback from this type of data collection? Marsh said most customers "...overestimate the importance of always being connected. Maybe a customer only needs to transmit data over a network three to five times per day. That can still be done via a batch connection."
The Markets And Features To Watch
"The main markets for us seem to be in the medical, age verification, and small to medium warehousing markets," stated Waters. "The smaller markets demand more flexibility for their dollar. With the current price range, this makes batch affordable." For the POS market, wireless handheld scanners are Metrologic Instruments' (Blackwood, NJ) forte. According to Kevin Woznicki, VP of sales, the Americas, "Inventory, price checking, store transfers and returns, shipping and receiving, and gift registry are all suitable for the download capabilities of batch processing."
Both Woznicki and Waters agree the future of batch data collection devices revolves around the concept of simplicity. "The next generation of batch devices will have high-definition touch screens and be more plug and play," Waters predicted. In contrast to this hardware focus, Woznicki foresees upcoming software advancements for batch devices. "Right now, the most common mistake VARs make with batch devices involves software issues such as programming and support," Woznicki stated. "In the future, I expect more user-friendly application generators and easier to use devices."