Oct 23, 2017Retail workforce management solutions company Reflexis Systems is one of five companies partnering with Zebra Technologies this fall to trial Zebra's new Savanna platform integrated with its own solution. The Savanna Internet of Things (IoT)-based platform is intended to bring real-time visibility and contextual analytics to the partners' inventory- and asset-management systems.
Zebra announced its new building-block hardware, software and services platform in September 2017, and selected five partners that will pilot the technology with their own solutions. The system is expected to be made commercially available next year. The Savanna platform is intended to make it easier for users to build applications to obtain real-time data from RFID and other types of sensors, the company reports, to help users understand their inventory, asset management and customer behavior, and to act on the analytics.
In recent years, says Matt Hayes, Zebra's acting general manager for enterprise intelligent software, companies have been seeking simpler ways to access and manage data from IoT-based systems. Zebra is striving to address this need with the new platform, he adds. But before releasing the system commercially, the technology company wanted it to have some time in the hands of potential partners and users.
The five companies participating in Zebra's early-adapters program were evaluated and selected based on the technical and commercial basis of their submission, Hayes says. In addition to Reflexis, Zebra selected Baidu, Descartes Systems Group, Problem Solutions LLC and StayLinked Corp.
According to Hayes, Zebra selected those five partners based on their ability to provide the necessary level of technical and solutions support. Following the work with the initial five, Zebra plans to expand the pilot to other participants as well, to provide early access before commercial launch in 2018.
Hayes says the Savanna platform will allow systems integrators to build a variety of technologies, such as RFID, bar codes, cameras, ultrasonic or other sensor-based systems, into a single solution—and the platform is designed to keep computing on the edge, he notes. The Savanna system collects and processes sensor data before that information is forwarded to the integrator software. This, he adds, ensures that users with IoT-based technology do not use up bandwidth sending all the data to a server in the cloud, for instance.
"From a security perspective," Hayes says, "having that access to data on the cloud provides a security risk." Conversely, containing much of that information on the edge reduces that risk.
Reflexis Systems, located in Dedham, Mass., has been helping its retail customers meet challenges in an industry facing growing complexity, says Brett Walker, Reflexis' global alliances and solution consulting VP. Since 2001, the company has been offering its software to help retailers manage everything from store execution to workforce management. But in recent years, Walker reports, the retail industry has had a new set of challenges to meet. He cites the changing behaviors of customers who are buying more merchandise online, the pressure to balance revenue with increased wages and the mounting complexity faced by managers and associates based on store-facing systems and technologies.
Complexity for retailers, Walker says, has slowed the adoption of IoT-based systems, since "there hasn't been an easy way to make the data being generated actionable." In some cases, in fact, retailers may be operating dozens of different store-facing systems, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, sensors, RFID readers, traffic counters, cameras, and merchandising- and order-management systems.
With the Savanna system, Walker says, managing exceptions that arise daily will become simpler, since the IoT-based data from printers, handheld devices, RFID readers and sensors can be collected, interpreted and then forwarded in real time to Reflexis' MyWork platform, with which users can view alerts and take action. "We see a large opportunity working with Savanna to further eliminate complexity," Walker states, "and make it easier for managers and store associates to work with customers and sell."
Reflexis is currently in discussions with several of its customers to begin planning the deployments. For instance, a retailer may want to take action based on mid-day inventory counts at the store front or in the back room via RFID, adjust the number of available sales-floor associates based on customer traffic spikes from a sensor situated at the front door, or raise real-time awareness of a potential loss-prevention issue if a piece of merchandise is sensed in an area of the store where it shouldn't be.
A supermarket or grocer that handles freshly prepared foods might need to receive data regarding temperature fluctuations, Walker says—though it may not want to know about a shift of only a degree or two, but rather consistent temperature changes or those that break acceptable thresholds. The MyWork software, he adds, would receive data, create a real-time alert and recommend best practice-based actions.
Reflexis' customers using the MyWork software with Savanna functionality could receive data from a variety of sensors, including fixed RFID readers around a store. That information would be collected and made actionable through MyWork for managers, or for employees directly, on handheld devices such as a Zebra TC51 mobile computer or ET50 tablet.
Reflexis' real-time execution platform, Walker says, coupled with analytics and data culled from a variety of IoT devices around a store, "is a powerful combination." Savanna, he explains, will help Reflexis "tame the IoT chaos that has been a barrier for retailers up to this point."
In the future, Walker reports, "We are also working on bringing additional levels of intelligence to our solutions through things like machine learning and predictive analytics."
"Our plans include further integration with our vision for retail segments—food safety being one area," Walker says. Savanna looks promising, he adds, even in its early stages, "and we are confident that our joint solutions will continue to help retailers streamline their processes, create better lines of sight for managers and simplify work for store associates so that they can better serve customers."
Reflexis' efforts will focus on use cases that its customers need to better address retail complexity. "We believe that we are coming into a period where we will begin to see accelerated adoption of these types of solutions," Walker says. "[The] IoT is an important part of our product strategy to help retailers better respond to the exceptions that happen every day in stores."