New design needed to rapidly reconfigure supply chain

by May 28, 2020 0 comments

The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate the reliance on e-commerce for food and other supplies as consumers seek to minimize their risk of exposure through social distancing, says Deep Agarwal, Regional Sales Director – Indian Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific.

The entire global and national supply chain has broken down as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. How can we have a tech upgrade using tools like tracking/RFID solutions and maybe drones and tracking via blockchain?

Today, meeting the needs of the on-demand economy has never been more challenging especially with the ongoing pandemic. We believe that a new kind of design is needed that enables companies to rapidly reconfigure their supply chains to become more agile and responsive to rapidly changing global trade policies, supply dynamics, and disruptions.

We expect the pandemic situation to accelerate the reliance on e-commerce for food and other supplies as consumers seek to minimize their risk of exposure through social distancing. This means that fulfilment operations will likely need to scale their abilities quickly to meet with the growing demand. Zebra mobile computers which are powered by the Android OS can by reducing onboarding time needed for new front-line workers, due to their familiar user interface. This allows the front-line workers to start performing at an optimal level quicker thereby enhancing productivity.

The augmentation of staff with RFID-enabled devices will continue to witness an upward trend. It is a powerful tool that grants physical materials with a digital voice. It allows businesses to track and trace their inventory within their facilities in real-time, thereby improving work efficiency and accuracy.

We are currently undergoing an unprecedented period that has posed challenges like never. Therefore, forward-thinking companies with the right technology are likely the ones who will emerge from the pandemic as leaders of their fields.

What are your learnings from the crisis and how can companies be more “future ready” from now on?

While the pandemic may have disrupted businesses and the lives of people around the world, it has presented an opportunity for companies to learn how to better manage a similar situation in the future. For instance:

a) Sectors like retail and healthcare will need to re-assess the resilience of their supply chains to keep production running in order to enable fulfilment to their customers.
b) Business continuity plans have led to split-team work arrangements which stresses out the workforce of essential businesses like supermarkets and daily essential stores, thereby prompting them to find ways to help their front-liners achieve greater productivity and efficiency at work.

For (a), we expect an increase in the usage of e-commerce for food and other essentials in the coming months as people continue to maintain social distancing for safety. After the pandemic, we anticipate the demand for e-commerce to be even higher because people would have grown comfortable with ordering online. Naturally, this means that fulfilment operations will have to leverage on technology to scale their abilities quickly to meet with this anticipated growth in demand.

For (b), we expect businesses to recognize the importance to augment their front-line staff with the right technology to increase their efficiency and productivity to cope with the situation and beyond. By providing them with tools that have a relatively low learning curve, their front-line staff will be able to shorten the onboarding time required and enable them to start using the devices effectively at work sooner.

Zebra is committed to helping the front-line of businesses to achieve greater efficiency and productivity through our innovative technology. We continue to work closely with our channel partners to provide industry-tailored solutions to businesses to cater to their varying needs, with the primary focus of helping them overcome their business challenges.

Is there a need for technological advancement to cater to the fast-changing consumer needs and what does that look like?

The pandemic is fast changing consumer behaviour. It has accelerated the growth of the on-demand economy because of increased online shopping due to stay home measures, while prompting new ways of shopping in a bid to observe social distancing. To stay competitive and to cope with the current demand, the only way forward is for businesses to introduce technology that can provide their front-line staff with the right tools to enhance their efficiency. For example:

(a) Optimize curbside pickup for online grocery orders

• The grocery shopping experience is set to change drastically, as click and collect orders have surged. One way to cope with this would be through curbside pickup for online grocery orders.
• Store associates can be notified of new online orders by sending automated alerts to their mobile devices. Once received, they can quickly pick orders using data-rich images and pass up items that they know are out-of-stock.
• Subsequently, they can pack merchandise and print receipts prior to the customers’ arrival to expedite order fulfilment.
• Store associates can be notified of customer arrivals by sending real-time alerts to their mobile devices, and they can scan customer coupons or take additional payment and print receipts while the customer remains in the safety of their vehicle.

(b) Transforming inventory management

• With daily essentials and consumer goods flying off the shelves of supermarkets during this pandemic, it has become crucial for retailers to have the right tools that can provide real-time visibility of their inventory both in their warehouse and store front. This will ensure that they do not experience an out-of-stock situation, which translates into revenue loss and customer satisfaction being compromised.

What advancements can be made in the healthcare and government sectors in the post Coronavirus era?

There are many technological solutions that the healthcare and government sectors can consider adopting presently or post-Coronavirus period.

For the healthcare sector:

(a) Drive through testing centers

• During an infection outbreak, drive-through testing centers are invaluable for healthcare facilities. They allow front-line workers to collect specimen samples from patients at high volumes and can contribute to reducing infection rates and ending the outbreak.
• In establishing a drive-through testing center, safety is a top priority to prevent infection rates from rising. Workflows must therefore be optimized to enable positive patient identification and proper specimen collection, testing and reporting. The end-to-end process must also go as smoothly as possible to reduce long wait times.

(b) Delivering optimal care in alternative care facilities

• When medical facilities are overwhelmed with an influx of patients during an infection outbreak, they set up alternative care facilities like medical tents or temporary hospital sites.
• These alternative care facilities increase bed capacity and help alleviate the pressures on intensive care and emergency room facilities in traditional hospitals.
• They typically offer only the essential services needed to combat an infection outbreak, with fast-paced and hectic environments that can lead to increased errors in patient identification and treatments.
• Amid these challenges, healthcare workers can continue to provide quality patient care if they are equipped with the right technology tools.

(c) Enhancing efficiencies in laboratory specimen management

• A pandemic can dramatically increase laboratory staff’s workload with huge volumes of specimens to test, and this is often done under pressure to get results as fast as possible with no room for errors.
• Specimen identification errors negatively impact patients by delaying, impeding or misdirecting treatment options. As a result, they can slow efforts to reduce infection rates and end the infection outbreak.
• Additionally, lab errors can increase costs for the healthcare facility and damage the facility’s reputation.
• Barcode technology has become a proven solution for labs to boost specimen identification efficiency by automating data entry and reducing specimen identification error rates. A retrospective study revealed that barcode scanning and one-on-one specimen collection education resulted in a 90 percent reduction in specimen identification errors.

For the government sector:

Emergency Medical Services

• Typically, any emergency medical services would strive to lower the number of deaths that occur before patients reach hospitals for treatment, which is especially relevant during this pandemic.
• In the case of Wyoming Office of Emergency Medical Services, they were using pen and paper to take notes while in the field and in the ambulance. And someone would later transfer the notes into a desktop-based system thereby resulting in data entry delays and errors.
• Ultra-rugged tablets with superb battery life were deployed to allow ambulance personnel to enter data in real-time from the ambulance, thereby saving precious time and reducing unnecessary errors. It will also free up the time of the ambulance personnel to focus their efforts on patient care.

How are you personally coping with this lockdown and any specific tips to companies and WFH employees to manage things better?

Personally, I have been coping well by working remotely to continue supporting Zebra India’s customers. Our primary focus is to ensure that there’s minimal disruption for our customers. This is made possible thanks to the good business continuity planning that we had in place.

Even before India’s nationwide lockdown was implemented, Zebra India was already offering flexible working arrangements and had asked our team members to work remotely, when possible. For team members who had to continue working in the office facilities, we offered them guidance on how to stay safe and took extra precautionary measures like making hand sanitizers readily available in our offices and increasing the cleaning frequency of all common areas of our facilities to ensure their safety. At Zebra, the safety and well-being of our team members is of utmost priority.

Businesses should ensure that the mobile devices used by their front-line workers are cleaned and disinfected thoroughly and regularly. This is especially the case for retailers whereby the point-of-sale equipment will be frequently touched by both store associates and customers. Contrary to popular belief, the best disinfectant is not always those that are alcohol-based.

Depending on the device and its usage, other forms of cleaning agent can also include sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide or even mild dish soap. Therefore, it is important for users to refer to the official sources of their devices to understand which cleaning agents are safe to use and the best way to clean their devices with. Otherwise, using the wrong cleaning agent may have a harsh effect on the devices, especially on their plastic casing.

It is recommended that retailers implement a device cleaning policy as soon as possible by referring to the original suppliers’ guidelines. This will help ensure that their front-line staff can properly disinfect their devices regularly. In addition, it will reassure store associates that the necessary steps are taken to prevent any shared technology devices from becoming a potential source of virus transmission.

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