Intermec provides products, networks and services that identify, track and manage supply chain assets and information. Core technologies include rugged mobile computing and data collection systems, barcode printers, and RFID (radio frequency identification).
With key marketplaces in transportation and logistics and retail, the recession’s impact on those sectors was replicated in the supplier market, so where logistics companies didn’t replace vehicles, they also didn’t upgrade their wireless solutions.
‘Our industry suffered significantly at the beginning of the recession in 2008,’ acknowledges Snadden. ‘And our industry is one of the first to come out of it because of the calls made on workforce productivity. As they scale up again, companies have to do more with less. Employees have to pick more in the warehouse and our technology aids that. In addition, as markets come back so does competition and all businesses are in search of growth. Our technologies can deliver opportunities for increased growth.’
Snadden gives the example of postal operators looking to do more at the doorstep than simply deliver a letter. They could deliver pension payments or perform meter readings while there, he suggests. ‘There are a wide range of data collection services that can provide operators with incremental revenues,’ he says.
Nevertheless, the economy remains Snadden’s greatest concern. ‘I still think the fragile economy is the first and most important challenge,’ he adds. ‘Clients are still very tentative about investment and, because they have been forced to sweat the assets they have for far longer than originally planned they now have creaking systems that are teetering on the edge.’
Surely that’s an attractive opportunity for Intermec? Yes, but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. ‘When it comes to replenishing [systems and equipment] they’re having to choose between solutions that are good enough, where the technology is essentially a replacement, and adopting the best technology in the knowledge that they’ll have to sweat that for a long time again.
‘The rate of advancement in the wireless world and what users’ requirements will be in 12-18 months means the question of what features and functions to build-in today is finely balanced. It comes down to the return on investment and budgets and the individual client and what the key driver for each of them is,’ says Snadden.
There’s a wider strategic consideration to be taken into account. ‘Are they just interested in getting past today or are they looking to compete with advanced offerings and increased revenue in the future?’ adds Snadden. ‘Very quickly the search for new services comes in. In the courier market in the UK, for example, the market is very fragmented and there are a plethora of mid-sized businesses fighting over what is still a high-growth market because of the increase in ecommerce, so the need to differentiate and compete is strong.’
In general terms, though, Intermec’s customers aren’t technology pioneers but they can be if the business case is there. ‘Our users aren’t using PDAs or other devices because they can’t,’ he says. ‘Those devices simply won’t last long enough – they aren’t rugged enough.’
For that reason, Snadden says they are looking for a comprehensive portfolio of ruggedised hardware, software and services. ‘They want one throat to choke,’ he says. ‘No one buys this technology for the sake of the technology, it’s a business process decision. Customers around the world are looking for supplier cost reduction, the ability to consolidate purchasing power and to have less cost associated with managing supplier contracts.
‘All the commercial aspects are important and from a technology and applications standpoint, customers want risk reduction and compliance. They want to know the hardware and the application will work together. Our research and development means the devices and the software have been tested together and gives customers that assurance.’
It’s a short step from buying pre-integrated hardware and software to taking entire solutions as a service. ‘Customers are looking at that more than before the recession,’ adds Snadden. ‘It’s easy to understand why. Recessions force companies to focus on their core business, so it’s a timely activity without doubt.
‘If I look at some of our customers in the retail space like Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Morrison’s, those types of organisations haven’t owned desktop PCs for years and yet they buy thousands of ruggedised mobile devices. So it is inevitable there will be an increase in managed services or out-tasked services for no other reason that hundreds of thousands of mobile devices are out there that need to be managed and are not insignificant in terms of cost.’
Intermec is focused on the lifecycle and total cost of ownership of devices. ‘We’re not delivering parking applications or proof of delivery applications for couriers,’ says Snadden. ‘We’re delivering mobile device management services. We can tell customers how their devices are being used and which ones need their batteries replenished.’
Initiative and ideas
He gives the example of a courier company that experiences peaks and troughs in activity. A company that might have 4,800 devices to handle the pre-Christmas rush may only need 3,000 devices active in the quieter summer holiday period. Intermec will take those 1,800 devices off contract for the summer period, turning them back on 1 October. ‘Customers are looking for us to use initiative and ideas so they can trim their costs and be more efficient in delivering the service to their businesses.’
Looking ahead, Snadden is optimistic about the wireless industry’s prospects. Intermec recently acquired speech recognition and voice instruction specialist Vocollect and thinks that capability adds another dimension to the opportunity.
‘These types of technology are still miles and miles away from saturation point,’ he says. ‘The numbers of possible application usages that are yet to be discovered are vast. The majority of the service areas of a business are not geared up to turn interactions into a valuable transaction to the business, and we can think about all kinds of applications that increase productivity, reduce cost and generate incremental revenues for clients.’