Batch or wireless? Maybe it's a fashion thing...

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Ralph DonohueAt first glance, the similarities between our industry and the world of fashion may not be obvious. There's a noticeable shortage of supermodels on my sales team, and the situation was much the same in the warehouse the last time I looked. By the same token, I would hazard a guess that Naomi Campbell knows precious little about the role of anti-collision algorithms in RFID.

Nevertheless, in both industries, fads and styles come and go, and successes and failures alike often appear to be driven by logic which, until IT hijacked the term, could best be described as fuzzy. It's not that long ago that we were being promised the wonders of WAP-I'm quite glad I didn't succumb to the siren's song exhorting the commissioning of a WAPenabled version of our website (for the innumerable resellers who were in the habit of using their Nokias to browse and order from online catalogues).

No, the IT industry certainly isn't immune to the whims of fashionistas. Take RF wireless data systems-from once being a very specialist niche technology, this is now the mainstream choice for connecting hand-held and truck-mounted terminals to host systems. I am among the first to acknowledge the significant benefits that arise from this: real-time data, online processing, etc. Sure, RF systems cost more than the oldfashioned batch method of entering the data and then downloading it via a terminal docking station, but the benefits vastly outweigh the higher price, right? Well, there are many resellers out there who are correctly telling their customers "maybe"!

Data timeliness

It's important to be clear what the key factor is, from a systems perspective, when weighing up batch and RF, and that is the required timeliness of the data. If your customer is operating a full-blown warehouse management system with a large number of daily movements, then the case for RF is usually pretty strong; the WMS needs to know things immediately. However, if the system needs only periodic data updates[for example, after a specific process has been carried out, or maybe only daily-then the batch approach can make a great deal more sense.

There's no denying that wireless systems have become highly fashionable, so much so that endusers increasingly ask for wireless by default. There is anecdotal evidence to back this up: the CIO of a major UK high street multiple was bemoaning to the proprietor of one of our larger resellers that too much of his time was spent on site visits downgrading requested RF installations to perfectly adequate (and very much cheaper) batch solutions. Certainly some of our resellers admit to delivering wireless systems where there isn't a need. In their defence, if the customer's heart is set on it, there's little point fighting it.

Brilliant things
As long as end-users are willing to be seduced by the latest technological advances, then the hardware manufacturers will happily parade evermore sophisticated devices down the catwalk. I too am a sucker for the new wave of tri-radio WAN/LAN/PAN-enabled hand-helds; they're brilliant things, but I'm not going to buy one unnecessarily. It's important that vendors continue to address the batch market with well-designed, high performance and keenly priced products. Batch solutions offer resellers great opportunities to add value in the form of highly profitable software, while the lower prices of batch terminals encourage higher volumes and increase the likelihood of users replacing and upgrading. Please don't get me wrong-I'm a huge fan of wireless technology. I just don't want us to get a reputation for miss-selling. That would make us all fashion victims.

Ralph Donohue is managing director of Paradigm Distribution. Paradigm Distribution offers trade customers the world's best available products for auto ID and data capture applications. More than simply delivering the best products at prices designed to maximise profits for channel partners, the company has earned a reputation for providing unparalleled pre- and post sales support, including access to technical experts to ensure that partners' businesses win orders and fulfil them successfully.

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