NEW YORK — Jan. 14, 2013 — At the National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Convention & EXPO this week, Microsoft is showcasing a range of technologies that enable retailers to realize hidden value by fostering the flow of data across their infrastructures, driving strategic insights and fueling business decisions. This includes supporting retailers with personal, seamless and differentiated experiences for customers and employees across industry devices within intelligent systems.
Great customer service begins with employees who feel empowered. And whether they work on the selling floor, backroom, factory floor or out in the field, employees need access to line-of-business apps and current data that can guide their decisions and help them remain productive. Today Microsoft is working with device manufacturers Motorola Solutions, Intermec, Honeywell, Ingenico and Bluebird on a new generation of devices powered by Windows Embedded 8 Handheld, the next generation of the Windows Embedded Handheld platform built on Windows Phone 8.
“From the retailer’s backroom to its store aisles and its digital channels, the front line for gaining customer loyalty is diverse,” says Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded at Microsoft. “One of the biggest goals for retailers is to give sales associates the technology they need to be effective at their jobs, including the handheld devices specifically designed for these environments. It’s not about impressing the customer with technology; it’s about taking advantage of technology that transforms the customer experience, and with our partners, we’re creating security-enhanced, enterprise-class devices that help retailers do just that.”
Windows Embedded 8 Handheld
Microsoft is the market leader in enterprise handheld devices, according to VDC Research. Motorola Solutions, Intermec, Honeywell, Ingenico and Bluebird each bring unique breadth, depth and global reach to support customers both regionally and globally. With the move to Windows Embedded 8 Handheld, Microsoft is working directly with a group of device manufacturers to enable deep collaboration and ensure the device experience lives up to the needs and expectations of organizations across a variety of industries.
For example, a team of Windows Embedded engineers is working closely with Motorola Solutions, a provider of mission-critical communication solutions and services for enterprise and government customers, to design a line of retail devices from the circuit board up. The devices offer the latest technology support, including intuitive touch usability; support for mobile point-of-service (POS) scenarios such as line-busting; and new application interfaces that make it easy to build line-of-business applications for taking advantage of peripherals, such as barcode scanners, magnetic stripe readers and receipt printers.
“The landscape for retailers and enterprises across many industries is undoubtedly evolving, with handheld devices continuing to emerge as strategic assets that empower workers, service customers and fuel vital operational intelligence to the back end,” says Girish Rishi, senior vice president of Enterprise Solutions for Motorola Solutions. “By extending Windows Phone 8, Windows Embedded 8 Handheld will provide Motorola Solutions’ customers with devices that deliver a rich, flexible experience for employees and an intelligent, connected experience for the customer and retailer.”
The Home Depot is one of the first companies to benefit from this deep level of collaboration between Microsoft and Motorola Solutions. The world’s largest home improvement retailer has made it a top strategic priority to ensure its more than 300,000 associates spend as little time as possible on back-end tasks so they can spend most of their time in the aisles doing what they do best — serving customers.
That requires technology that not only simplifies processes such as inventory management and business analytics, but also speeds up checkout, seamlessly connects online and store processes such as buy-online-pickup-in-store, enables quick communication between associates, and puts information at the fingertips of sales associates to help them easily find products and the product information they need to provide great service.
In 2010, The Home Depot deployed 34,000 Motorola Solutions devices running Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5, which they dubbed “First Phones.” The only significant complaint from stores: “How can we get more?” So, in fall 2012 the company deployed 25,000 First Phone Juniors, a smaller version of the Motorola Solutions- and Microsoft-powered handheld that included the core functionality associates need most.
Now, a team consisting of members from Motorola Solutions, The Home Depot and Microsoft have defined the next generation of that popular device, which will pilot later this year, giving The Home Depot associates advanced tools such as voice search and easy-to-use, touch-enabled business apps — such as those on a typical Windows Phone 8 smartphone — that can still withstand the daily rigor of the retail environment.
The end goal of these devices is to help retailers deliver a connected customer experience. A vision of these possibilities will be on display at the Microsoft booth at NRF, illustrating an engagement process that extends to the customer’s home and culminates in a personalized, in-store experience that fosters customer loyalty.
The demo shows how a customer can purchase an item on the website and schedule it for pickup at his or her local store. Associates each carry a Motorola Solutions device loaded with task management, customer lookup, order processing and store inventory data. When the customer arrives, the associate uses his or her device to locate the merchandise and identify opportunities to help the customer with related needs so the customer has everything he or she needs to get the job done.
The Motorola Solutions devices are part of a larger solution that also includes in-store Windows PCs, where retail associates can get more information about promotions, provide project estimates and schedule home installation appointments.
Microsoft is also demonstrating how a retail store manager can monitor store operations through incorporation within an intelligent system. Managers use a touch-enabled Store Management dashboard to gain quick access to operational analytics, POS data, building maintenance controls and the ability to control in-store digital signage.
Building Connected, Intuitive Industry Handheld Solutions
Because Windows Embedded 8 Handheld is built on Windows Phone 8, organizations can benefit from enterprise-class manageability, and both Microsoft and Windows Phone 8 management partners already offer solutions that support Windows Embedded 8 Handheld.
Software developers will benefit from the Windows Phone 8 support of Visual Studio 2012, and enterprise application developers can start developing applications today using the Windows Phone 8 software development kit (SDK). Microsoft is also delivering new, common application programming interfaces (APIs) for industry peripherals such as magnetic stripe readers; Europay, MasterCard, Visa payment readers; receipt printers; and bar code scanners and imagers, making it easier for developers to create line-of-business applications that are supported across all Windows Embedded 8 Handheld devices with those peripherals.
Later this year, Microsoft will release the Windows Embedded 8 Handheld SDK, which will provide the additional APIs for accessing industry peripherals. Enterprises and developers alike will also benefit from the compatibility with Windows Phone 8 applications. Windows Embedded 8 Handheld supports off-the-shelf business and productivity applications such as Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics for Retail.
These capabilities can be applied to any retailer, large or small. Providing employees with access to the information they need provides a level of empowerment and responsiveness that will speak volumes for a company’s commitment to the customer and drive home the benefit of remaining loyal.
1 Source: Enterprise and Government Mobility Hardware Mobile Devices, VDC, July 2012