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December 13, 2017

2017: The Year of MIoHT

By Special Guest
Ryan Webber, Director of Enterprise Mobility at SOTI

Nearly 80 percent of the population of the United States has a smartphone. And this year more people will do their holiday shopping on-the-go than at home.

2017 will go down in history as the first year of MIoHT (Mobile Internet of Holiday Things).

UPS forecasts a record high 750 million package will be shipped this holiday season. The U.S. postal service has geared up for fifteen billion pieces of mail and 850 million packages.

That’s a lot to keep up with, and it takes a lot of mobile technology to make it all work.

For example, Grandma Katherine orders a toy train for her grandson Danny from a multi-channel retailer on her iPhone. She taps “buy” and just like that, his gift is on the way.

That simple tap on Katherine’s iPad screen sets off a rippling chain reaction of taps and scans and wireless communications across the entire supply chain.

At the warehouse, a worker uses a ruggedized scanner – typically, a purpose-built Windows smartphone locked down so that scanning parcels is all it can do (no checking Facebook on this device!) – to scan the box containing Danny’s toy train she just pulled off the shelf.  The handheld scanner updates inventory, which automatically triggers an order for more toy trains to the factory in China.

The warehouse worker gently places Danny’s toy train into a tote -- which immediately zips away, autonomously transported by a robot to the loading dock that constantly updates its position to the warehouse management system so supervisors know where it is at all times.  When the U.S. postal service carrier picks up the package there, he scans it with a ruggedized Android tablet, which automatically updates the brand new tablet mounted on the driver’s dashboard. At this point, Katherine is notified that her package is on its way.

By the way, that mounted tablet is there because of the new Electronic Log Device (ELD) mandate, which starts in December 2017. The mandate requires every long-haul driver in North America to electronically log his or her hours. ELD is great for safety, because it means drivers can’t drive for 24 hours straight and then fudge their hours the way they did before ELD. This means more drivers, more tablets, and more secure and robust EMM solutions (enterprise mobility management) are all needed.

As the postal worker wishes his colleague at the loading dock a happy holiday, the telematics IoT fleet management system has already wirelessly updated the driver’s tablet with new turn-by-turn directions and a detailed plan for where and when to meet the next driver when it’s time for the first driver to take a well-deserved nap.

Two days later, after a long trip across America -- during which the package’s location has been updated and logged wirelessly at every stop – the toy truck for Danny arrives at the front door.

The delivery driver hands Danny’s babysitter a ruggedized Linux tablet to sign for the package, automatically triggering a “package delivered” email to Danny’s Mom. “Uh-oh”, she thinks, and quickly texts the babysitter.  “Grandma Katherine had the same holiday wish list as Grandma Barbara” the text reads. “Can you please open the package and check? If Katherine bought Danny a toy train, would you please return it to the store for a credit?”

The babysitter opens the package, and yes – Danny now has two of the same toy trains. The line at the store is murder. Mercifully, a salesperson brings her wireless tablet over, she scans the packing slip which automatically triggers a store credit, wirelessly updating the store’s inventory all the while, and emailing Danny’s Mom an email with a survey about the experience.

It turns out the store is overstocked with toy trains, but the local airport vending machine reports it’s selling out of toy trains fast. So off Danny’s toy train goes.

EMM in the age of the MIoHT
To track millions of packages and deliver on time, the retail logistics supply chain has becoming a model for best practices in IoT. Already, sensors, mobile scanners, and dashboard-mounted tablets are being used to manage every variable from inventory to warehouse management, transportation routes, fuel efficiency, and proof of delivery.

That means EMM is more important than ever. To avoid downtime in delivery, every person in the chain needs devices that work 24/7/365. That’s no easy task when those devices have to endure extremes of hot and cold, rain, snow, sleet -- not to mention slippery fingers and unforgiving warehouse floors. And if mobile devices aren’t restricted in what they can access, drivers on breaks will use huge amounts of data and drain their batteries watching YouTube videos or whatever else they’d like to look at online. Plus, if a device isn’t remotely managed a user can innocently update the operating system, without a clue that the update will cripple the purpose-built delivery software inside. When mobile devices go down, it’s critical that troubleshooting can happen remotely.  The EMM has to manage a long logistics chain that is anything but homogeneous: a hodgepodge of operating systems and versions and hardware. Remote control capabilities are something every company who deals with IoT and mobility issues need to scrutinize carefully. The costs of devices failing is every bit as high as having delivery trucks run out of gas on a remote highway.

In many ways, mobility and IoT are still in the early days. Some companies will find they had the right vendors and right capabilities to manage this intense holiday shipping season well. Others will no doubt have learned some painful lessons.

But one thing is for sure - while 2017 was the first year of the Mobile Internet of Holiday Things, it won’t be the last.

It’s not too early to start thinking about 2018.

About the author: Ryan Webber is the Director of Enterprise Mobility at SOTI where he oversees global mobility strategies for Fortune 100 companies looking to harness the power of mobility to transform operations. Ryan  leverages his expertise with more than 15 years of experience working in the mobile space to help SOTI customers across a variety of sectors including retail, healthcare and field services. Prior to joining SOTI, Ryan held roles at KORE Telematics and TELUS Business Solutions. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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