A conversation with Chip Yager, Zebra Technologies
A candid conversation around enterprise mobility’s role in the Digital Transformation.
Enterprises are constantly looking for strategies and technologies to kickstart their digital transformation efforts. We spoke with Chip Yager, Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Zebra Technologies, to explore this topic and see how enterprise mobility and other Next Gen technologies are impacting the digital transformation.
Q: What does digital transformation mean to Zebra?
Yager: At Zebra, we look at trends across our customers and verticals to gauge shifts in behaviors. We are seeing customers moving from analog processes that are manually driven by human intuition to digital processes where data is captured automatically, and real-time decisions are made autonomously. There are often people involved in digital processes, but their job becomes easier because the right decisions and actions are presented to them. We see this digital transformation as the path that companies go down, moving from their old analog processes to connected digital workflows that help companies become more efficient and offer better customer experiences.
Q: What role do you see mobility playing in the digital transformation of the enterprise landscape?
Yager: Mobility itself creates engagement among people and across operations. This is particularly true with empowering front-line workers. Equipping them with the right mobile devices gives these employees the tools they need to do their jobs as seamlessly as possible. Mobility devices are often the primary method of capturing operational data.
We will continue to see the growth of mobility as more and more workers need to be connected and enabled in their roles. For example, there are still many retail associates who don’t have access to adequate technology. These unconnected employees are not able to communicate, receive and respond to tasks or support customers at the same level as their connected counterparts.
Q: What types of emerging technology do you think will be most prevalent in 2030?
Yager: There are many emerging technologies that enterprises should be aware of, but I will touch on three main ones here. First is the arrival of smart sensors. Soon, our workplaces will be instrumented so they can automatically sense how work is getting done as well as locate critical equipment and people in the operations. Increasingly the workflow itself will be directed by these sensing infrastructures. We're starting to see the first elements of that with Zebra’s SmartPack and SmartLens solutions.
The second area to note will be machine learning, particularly when used in conjunction with expanded data capture technologies. A richer data set enables smart analytics and machine learning insights to determine workflow. This can offer “best next actions” to improve processes.
Finally, I think we will see more intelligent automation that combines technologies such as computer vision and decision automation to enhance operations. Automation technologies like cobots will complement our front-line workers and take away many mundane, difficult or unsafe tasks, allowing employees to concentrate on the tasks where people add the most value.
Q: How do you leverage emerging technologies to benefit your customers across your key verticals?
Yager: Zebra is fortunate to have a trusted advisor position with a great number of the leading companies in our verticals, and we work with them directly to assess the needs of their operations. We apply new technologies and co-develop products to then bring those technologies, once proven, to the rest of the marketplace. We have extensive venture investments and internal research and development efforts working on this bleeding edge of technology to transform how employees approach their jobs. We understand our customers’ workflows and their various environments from retail to warehousing/logistics, healthcare and manufacturing. We'll continue to look for the best new technology solutions to bring to our customers to address the needs we know they have.
Q: How do you help to futureproof the operations of your customers?
Yager: For a retail associate, we have designed purpose-built devices that enable a person working on the sales floor to do everything they could possibly need to help customers, as well as address the tasks that are part of a retail associates’ day. Employees can interface with customers, show them information like product comparisons and make orders to ship directly to the customers’ homes. These devices are rugged, ergonomic units that can last for years. We “futureproof” by building our devices using modern smartphone chipsets, providing long-term security updates and integrating voice interfaces to enable future capabilities.
In field services, employees need devices that can put up with the kind of rugged, challenging environments that a delivery person must navigate throughout an eight to ten-hour day, moving as quickly as they can. They are constantly jumping in and out of vehicles, often carrying many boxes at a time. They need a device with a large screen for easy navigation and fast processing so that they can handle the rapid pace of the day. But most importantly, that device must be able to put up with the drops and tumbles that inevitably happen day in and day out. We ensure that our devices are built to the highest durability specifications so our customers can use these devices for years to come. The United States Postal Service just selected Zebra as its next-generation mobile delivery device provider, and 300,000 of our devices will optimize its delivery network with real-time visibility for its letter carriers.
Q: How do you think IT teams can better prepare for maintaining and supporting this new emerging technology?
Yager: First, it should be a goal for all IT organizations to digitize their businesses - to move from the analog world of visual inspections and people-enabled processes to digital tracking of the workflow itself. That means you must instrument the workflow end to end and understand the location of all critical assets and track them individually. They need to get comfortable with cloud-based networks so they can seamlessly bring in external data from multiple locations to their organization. This will enable the Big Data analytics that will open the next set of intelligent insights for their business.
It’s important that organizations monitor of the next generation of technology but be wary of potential drawbacks. There are many startups involved with these emerging technologies, but enterprises must note they likely will not understand connectivity or security at the level they’re used to. As well, they could lack the integration capabilities of vendors you are used to working with. The best companies will be aware of these technologies but not look to leverage them until they have become mature enough for the enterprise.
Q: What are some barriers to technical/organizational change/mobile tech adoption you are seeing, and how can we overcome them?
Yager: Depending on the industry, there’s a skillset gap out there that is very challenging for many organizations to overcome. There just aren’t enough people that understand these new technologies well enough to support their evaluation and deployment.
In addition, we're fighting uphill with organizational bandwidth. Our customers are under pressure today to keep up with the expectations of their clients. But somebody needs be able to step back and look at those long-term investments that can improve the business down the road.
We must stop applying old paradigms to new technologies. The refresh rate for mobile computers may have been seven-plus years in the past for some customers, but we would never expect that out of a cell phone. Newer enterprise mobile computers are much closer to smartphones from a technology point of view, and we should consider that when we’re projecting refresh plans. Even with security patch availability going well beyond what a cell phone typically has, customers may be disadvantaged if they expect that the investment, they make today would be the right investment seven years from now.
Q: What is the value of partnerships in the digital transformation landscape – for you & your customers? How does Stratix add value to Zebra?
Yager: Partners like Stratix are critical. Zebra needs partners who want to invest in learning new technologies and have solution-based mindsets; partners that are focused on providing engineering support to customers. We need partners that have trusted advisor relationships with their customers. I believe Stratix is a great example of just that type of partner.