Magazine Article | November 1, 2002

On The Right Track

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

One vendor understands that integrating technologies is the key to success. And for one industry, it may be the key to survival.

Integrated Solutions, November 2002
Ed Hess

The name of the show was slightly different for 2002 - Frontline Solutions Supply Chain Week. There was a concerted effort to attract vendors outside of the traditional bar code and data capture markets - welcome aboard, supply chain management and field service vendors. Then, there was the show itself. Despite all of the efforts of show management to attract a broader (read: larger) audience, attendance by vendors and end users seemed to be down. And, worse yet, there didn't seem to be any excitement or buzz on the show floor at Chicago's McCormick Place. For the premier trade show promoting AIDC (automatic identification and data collection), it wasn't a good scene.

The economy is staggering like a drunk at 2:00 a.m. Your company isn't authorizing large IT purchases, let alone paying for field trips to trade shows to investigate technology and network with your colleagues. I get all that. But, I can't help but think the economy is a convenient scapegoat being used to mask a bigger problem with the AIDC industry. Or, maybe it's that the squishy economy is simply revealing the weakness of the industry. In either case, tweaking the industry show has not changed the industry - not yet, and maybe never.

You Need The Total Solution
If the industry wants to change and grab the attention of more end users, then that movement will have to come from within. Key vendors from within the industry will have to lead the charge. And, thankfully, that seems to be happening at one company. Zebra Technologies - whom I hesitate to refer to as a bar code printer manufacturer even though that is its heritage - is taking itself in a new direction while remaining connected to its past. The other day, I spoke with John Paxton, the bar code business unit president of Zebra and 20-year veteran in the AIDC industry. He described the new course that Zebra has charted.

"AIDC is passé," commented Paxton. "The industry needs to reinvent itself. We have to go away from traditional bar coding and the broader technology solutions market. That's where Zebra has been heading." Away from traditional bar coding, in Zebra's case, means developing and selling other forms of data capture, such as RFID (radio frequency identification), biometrics, ID cards, and voice recognition. It all revolves around being able to offer a total data capture solution (integrating technologies) and not just be a part of it (bar coding).

It's no surprise that security applications are a focal point for Zebra as it looks toward the future. In Paxton's view, security has a lot to do with tracking people and items. And, that's what Zebra is trying to deliver - total data capture and tracking solutions. In an airport, for example, a traditional bar code vendor may have only garnered the bar code application for luggage. By expanding boundaries, that same vendor can offer employee tracking and authentication through biometrics and ID cards. Additionally, RFID technology will surely be included as airport security is refined and tightened. In the past, Zebra might have been happy to win one part of that business. Now, it wants it all.

If you don't think Zebra is headed in the right direction, you might want to check the decisions the company has made in the past and how they have affected its stock price. As of October, the stock (ZBRA) is up 70% from its 52-week low. How did your company's stock perform over that same period?