It’s the beginning of a brand new year, and we’re taking the opportunity to both reflect on the technology trends of 2018 and consider what 2019 might have in store. The technology industry is always changing, and these changes are reflected in both hardware and software trends.
The 2000s were a huge decade for tech. We saw mobile technologies transform our everyday lives and push businesses to the next level (hard to believe that cell phones have been around that long, isn’t it?). With the end of the 2010s nearing, we sat down with our very own Jacob Pegg, Director of Product Development, to learn more about the technology that has phased out during the 2000s and 2010s and get his take on trends that will gain momentum as we head toward the 2020s.
The continuing evolution of mobile warehouse operations
Beginning in the 1990s, mobile devices running the Windows Mobile operating system were the standard for warehouses, said Pegg. Heading into the 2010s, it looked like that norm would continue. However, in early 2017, Microsoft discontinued its Windows Mobile operating system, and hardware manufacturers who previously relied on Windows Mobile moved to the iOS and Android platforms as a result.
Android has emerged as the new king of industrialized mobile devices. iOS can be a limiting operating system to work with, as it only functions on Apple devices, which tend to be less “warehouse proof” than devices that run on Android. In addition, the Android platform is generally considered to be easier to work with and more widely supported.
That’s not to say that iOS is out of the game, however. An Apple device outfitted with a sled is able to better perform common warehouse functions such as scanning barcodes, and can be quite useful in certain warehouses. Overall, though, more and more companies are making the switch to the sturdy, dependable Android devices that don’t require a separate piece of hardware to be useful in a busy warehouse.
The changing landscape of RFID tag usage
We started the 2000s thinking RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, which are small sensors that are primarily used to track inventory, were going to solve all of those pesky inventory management problems. Some companies made big investments anticipating the change. And while RFID tags certainly have proved to be effective in certain circumstances, such as tracking shipping containers and trucks, they haven’t permeated the entire supply chain as predicted.
RFID tags never took off like we had all hoped because of the limitations of a passive RFID tag vs an active one. Active tags contain a battery that emits a signal, while passive tags are powered by the RFID scanner. The RFID scanner needs to be very close to a passive tag in order to read it, but not as close to an active tag, making active tags more useful in more scenarios. Unfortunately, though, the cost of active RFID tags is prohibitive — while passive RFID tags cost around 10-50 cents each, active tags cost anywhere from $5 to $15 a tag.
The expectations for RFID-tracked inventory have declined so sharply that Gartner Analytics, a world leader in predictive data analysis, removed RFID for inventory tracking from their Postmodern ERP 2018 hype cycle. The technology had occupied a prominent place in the 2017 hype cycle, but Gartner now predicts that it will take at least another 10 years before we start to see RFID inventory tracking re-enter the playing field, if we ever do.
Pegg had a prediction of his own, though, for where we might start to see RFID tags pop up: retail stores. This past year’s National Retail Federation show had several “smart shelves” on display. These shelves read product information using a passive RFID tag and display it where the price tag normally would be, making updating product information on retail shelves a much quicker, easier, and more accurate process than before.
Cloud adoption continues to make headway
Cloud adoption in the financial, human resources, payroll, and human capital management solution realms has skyrocketed in the last decade. Other industries, such as manufacturing, have been more reluctant to make the change.
Pegg anticipates the lag will continue, due to the complexity of manufacturing itself. Because of how complicated manufacturing processes can be, it takes much longer to create a viable cloud-based solution that manufacturers will trust. It’s much riskier for a manufacturer to switch ERP systems than, for example, a human resources department because of how much can quickly go wrong in a less-than-ideal solution. Manufacturers who are moving to the cloud these days tend to adopt a “hybrid postmodern” approach — where parts of their ERP system reside in the cloud and other parts are still on-premises. The old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage rings especially true when dealing with the intricacies of a manufacturing ERP solution.
The distribution industry, on the other hand, is making some slow but steady progress in moving to the cloud, thanks to an increased number of cloud platforms that support strong inventory management functionality (like SalesPad Cloud!) to help mid-market companies compete in an increasingly “cloudy” market.
Looking to the future: artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain
The future is bright for new technology. The groundwork for revolutionary concepts such as blockchain, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence is being laid, and in some cases, can already be found in larger enterprise operations. Look for news of these and other technologies becoming more accessible to more and more companies in the coming years.
Blockchain in particular, Pegg said, has the potential to really affect how inventory-minded companies think about the lifecycle of their products. Blockchain technology is most commonly associated with the financial industry, thanks to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but that’s simply because the processes for utilizing blockchain are already in place in that field. As the technology continues to evolve, we’ll see it utilized in other fields, such as inventory management, as well.
At SalesPad, we’re always working to innovate and evolve in order to keep pace with business technology as it continues to grow. As you look ahead to 2019 and beyond, we hope you’ll find these insights useful as you consider new technologies to facilitate your own growth.
Interested in learning more about our cloud product, or in learning about how our forward-thinking warehouse barcoding solutions can help keep your company competitive? Get in touch with your account manager to start a conversation. We’d love to hear from you.