Real-time information for real life
Harnessing and use of data can help companies react faster to become more profitable and cost-efficient
Futurists predict we will live in a world where things will never get lost.
Thanks to real-time information relying on the Global Positioning System, Bluetooth, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and the Internet, it is becoming easier to keep track of assets and people, and this increased visibility has been a boon for organisations.
We are already reaping the fruits of such real-time visibility - Uber, for example, is a pioneer that is extremely efficient in producing and analysing real-time traffic data, based on which it is able to quickly adjust to booking demands by placing more or fewer cars in an area.
Similarly, the Google-owned navigation service Waze relies heavily on real-time and user-generated traffic data so it can give users the fastest possible route to their destinations.
Businesses used to have to wait until the end of each month to collect and count their receipts, a system called batch processing. But real-time processing has dramatically changed the way enterprises operate and significantly reduced the time it takes for decision-makers to get access to operational data, analyse them, and make more informed and astute decisions.
The processing and analysis can happen simultaneously, turning organisations into methodical machines agile in responding to market and operational needs.
This real-time visibility allows enterprises to know where their inventories, people, and equipment are at any time, allowing them to make faster deliveries to customers and ensuring the right amount of inventory is maintained where it is needed most.
Just a few years ago, Big Data did not even exist. Most data generated in the past would be considered, by current standards, a disparate smattering.
Today, data is measured in terabytes (trillions) and petabytes (quadrillions). Several years down the road, even these numbers will seem small, especially as more organisations look to adopt the Internet of Things (IoT).
In Zebra's recently released Warehouse 2020 Vision Study, 72 per cent of respondents said they plan to adopt IoT technologies by 2020 and 60 per cent said they will be investing more in analytics.
The staggering amount of data available will provide visibility to organisations, which will in turn bring about more accurate analysis and predictions that were once impossible to make with certainty.
With this growth, it is fitting a new industry category, known as Enterprise Asset Intelligence, has emerged. It harnesses the three megatrends currently driving the enterprise IT space: IoT, enterprise mobility and cloud computing.
Using a combination of connected mobile devices, scanners and sensors, organisations are able to embrace real-time data in their operations.
Tags - barcodes or RFID - can be affixed to anything to give a digital voice to objects that are otherwise unable to connect in real-time to the network.
Mobile devices, including smartphones and handheld computers, can read information encoded on these tags and send them wirelessly to a database or electronic management system over the network. This wireless web of devices is essentially IoT in one of its most basic forms.
The use of mobile scanners and devices reduces the reliance on the traditional pen-and-paper process, which is prone to errors due to poor handwriting or inaccurate data entry.
The data is also available instantaneously and can be analysed in real time, increasing productivity and allowing quick responses to any operational changes.
Cloud computing is another indispensable component for yielding a massive amount of information and increasing operational visibility.
It is not only about building data centres and computing resources on demand but also about aggregating data captured by the sensors, managing real-time analytics and converting them into immediately actionable business insights.
Here are some simple real-life examples of how such immense visibility can be achieved by adopting Enterprise Asset Intelligence: In a warehouse, staff use RFID and barcode tags to track a product's exact location. Imagine a mammoth warehouse that houses thousands of products - knowing where exactly something is located becomes the very foundation of an efficient warehouse.
In the retail industry, more than 70 per cent of shoppers are known to use their smartphones to do research inside a brick-and-mortar retail store before making purchases. However, research also showed that at least 66 per cent of them report not finding the information they need. This could directly impact sales in a negative way.
Today, with in-store networks and data analytics systems, retailers are able to tap into a smartphone's Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology and engage in highly customised and personalised interactions with their customers, improving their shopping experience and forging a loyal following.
Enterprise Asset Intelligence is also bringing about transformations in the healthcare sector.
With barcoded wristbands embedding patient and drug information, caregivers are empowered to identify the patients accurately and administer the drugs safely.
In addition, locationing technology is able to inform medical teams immediately when a patient falls or needs urgent care, find a clinician in the moment of need and shorten the time needed to search for an essential piece of medical equipment.
Having optimal insight about an organisation's operations is what business leaders have been yearning for years.
With the increasing amount of data being generated and collected, enterprise perspectives have broadened in ways that were unheard of before.
By utilising technologies that enable real-time data analytics and insights, organisations can achieve tangible increments in productivity and efficiency, which will subsequently make a real difference in their day-to-day operations and their bottom lines.
The writer is vice-president and general manager at Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific.
This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.