Paving the Way: Q&A with Zebra Technologies

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 08 Jul 2019

With more than 10,000 partners across 100 countries, Zebra Technologies provides retailers with end-to-end business solutions. We sat down with Tom Christodoulou, the Sales Manager and General Manager, ANZ, to discuss the impact of the local industry landscape and future for computer tech.

Zebra’s commitment to innovation has helped the team to evolve from a product company to an enterprise that empowers businesses with end-to-end data-driven solutions. At Zebra, the endeavour is to incorporate innovation into everything it does; from the design of the most sophisticated products and solutions to the way it gathers customer feedback.

Since its inception in the ‘60s, technology has transformed incredibly. How has Zebra evolved with the rapidly changing times?

Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen many industry inflection points and have been fortunate enough to benefit from each one. The common theme in these inflection points has been the continuous trend of increased mobility that ultimately empowers frontline workers.

We started our journey as Data Specialties Inc. with the first paper tape punch to recording point of sale transactions and the first thermal based barcode printer. We then changed our name to Zebra Technologies in the 1980s to pay homage to the zebra-like stripes of the barcode.

Early-on, we focused on enabling data capture in retail through barcode printing and reading by developing the industry’s first handheld barcode readers, which initiated the concept of mobility combined with data capture. Our handheld devices provided workers with the freedom to collect data at the point of activity. We then transitioned to incorporating barcode reading into a mobile computer, which allowed workers to combine computing and applications with data capture to give way to yet another level of frontline worker productivity.

The next few inflection points included pioneering wireless technology and the 802.11 standard that brought what we all know as WiFi today to our mobile computers, so that workers can have access to data from key systems from anywhere within a facility. We then migrated from WLAN to the first WWAN or cellular connected mobile computer capable of running mobile applications, which is something that we delivered seven years before the introduction of the iPhone.

We continue to focus on empowering that frontline worker through data insights, advancing sensor and software technologies to give those who use our products and solutions a competitive edge. Our investments in disruptive technologies bolstered by key acquisitions including Hart Systems, Motorola Solutions Enterprise Business, Xplore Technologies, Temptime Corporation and most recently Profitect, Inc. have helped lead to our consistent growth.

How has Zebra Technologies enabled its local customers to evolve in alignment with emerging technologies?

At Zebra, we’re continuously partnering with our customers to adopt and deploy the latest enterprise technologies within their operations. Emerging technologies have enabled unprecedented convenience in the workplace, and as a result, consumer expectations are evolving to expect better and faster service which also delivers a concierge like personalised experience.

Workers today need real-time, digital data about everything from work orders, customer history, inventory availability to other logistical details at their fingertips throughout the day. As a result, we’re seeing a growing number of businesses in Australia deploying Zebra’s android devices across their warehouses and stores.

What types of opportunities and challenges are being faced by the industry currently? How can Zebra Technologies tackle them?

Zebra has been able to empower the front line in achieving a performance edge across all industries, from retail and healthcare to transportation and logistics (amongst many others).

While every industry has its respective opportunities and challenges, the retail industry faces unprecedented demand for frictionless and personalised service. Local vendors are now facing competition on a global scale, with international businesses impacting the industry drastically.

Zebra helps our customers tackle these changes with solutions that take advantage of data, from solutions that provide retailers with real-time stock availability to solutions that enrich the customer experience. The contemporary customer doesn’t just expect a mobile shopping experience; they expect customer service that leverages mobility as well. As such, we’ve introduced our range of rugged tablets that empower workers to provide a better in-store experience wherever they are. 

What impact does Zebra have on the local industry landscape?

At Zebra, we believe that our disruptive capabilities can clearly be felt across the region’s retail, healthcare, and logistics industry. While it may be easy to focus on the front-end operations, the optimisation of the supporting back-end operations will have marked impact on the business as a whole.

For example, New Zealand’s supermarket chain, PAK’nSAVE, recently deployed our personal shopper handheld computers across its stores to improve the customer experience.

By tapping into Zebra’s self-scanning technology, both customers and frontline employees got to enjoy faster checkout with increased time savings. In fact, customers with large shopping lists have reported saving up to 30 minutes for a single shopping trip by using the scan-as-you-go devices.

Robots, RPA and other automation software has become a buzz word in recent times. How has Zebra Technologies adjusted with these innovations? Do you think they’ll evolve further?

Over the past few years, automation has been projected to change industrial operations in a drastic way. Justified by its potential for businesses, automation has numerous benefits in areas such as transportation and logistics (T&L) or in the warehouse, where the demand for timeliness and real-time inventory updates can be utilised by mobile computers and scanners.

Although some may fear the replacement of humans by machines, there’s the alternate possibility in which automation can create new jobs. As drone technology increases in the delivery of consumer goods for instance, the need for drone managers and operators rises.

With this focus again on T&L, new automation technologies may instead change the scope of work being done, not the supply of jobs available. What is clear however, is the need for human response and interaction to run smoothly. We are approaching a brave new AI world, but there will always be demand for a human mind at the centre of efficient operations.

Where do you see the future for marking, tracking and computer printing technologies?

Such technologies will continue to become more seamless and integrated within the business. From real-time tracking and live updates of inventory, businesses will have a complete and holistic understanding of the business (and its resources).

As a result of being equipped with this data, the next step is to leverage such data in meaningful ways to drive better customer interactions and engagements.

‘Unicorns’, start-ups and disrupters have somewhat pushed a lot of legacy companies out of the spotlight in recent years. How can companies like Zebra Technologies stay in the loop of advancing tech?

Zebra has maintained its customer-centric focus for the past 50 years whilst ensuring that innovation is at the centre of everything we do. We are always working to provide the best possible solutions for partners and customers to help overcome their challenges and provide trustworthy advice. It is the goal of Zebra to guide enterprises through their digital transformation journey and equip them with the latest industry-disrupting technologies.

As long as our commitment to innovation is aligned with our commitment to our customers, Zebra will continue to lead the industry and stay on top of advancing technologies.

What’s next for Zebra Technologies?

Our goal is to continue to empower the front line of businesses in the areas of retail, healthcare, transportation and logistics, manufacturing and other industries to achieve a performance edge that translates to delighted customers, good patient outcomes and excellent business performance.

As a company that understands the importance of working together to build great things, we will also continue to work closely with our channel partners who are key players in our delivery of innovation and expertise. With over 10,000 partners across 100 countries, we will continue to work closely with our worldwide network of channel partners to develop valuable industry-tailored solutions that are regionally accessible.

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