Online Exclusive: Colin Summers, Intermec

Demand is rising for handheld computers in the warehouse.


Colin Summers, regional manager for Intermec Middle East, explains why the handheld market is at the cusp of a new wave of deployment in the region. 

What's your experience in the Middle East and what industries do you serve?
Intermec has been providing handheld computers for  more than 20 years in this part of the world. We manufacture what we would call ‘rugged’ or ‘field’ handheld terminals and mobile computers and our typical user could be a Courier, Warehouse Packer, Postal Delivery Person, Field Service Engineer, Van Sales Driver, Merchandiser, Market Research Executive, Fast Food Delivery Guy, Technician, Medical Professional, Firefighter, Policeman, Restaurant Waitress or Utility Meter Reader.

What everyone above has in common is that they are using the handheld computers to perform multiple business critical operations in an enterprise organisation.

Can you give me an outline of the products you produce?
We have a wide range of handheld computers for different applications and different users and even for different environments.

The CN3 series of handheld computers, which are rugged field devices, which are used by thousands of outdoor field sales and service professionals. This includes the CN3 and CN3E products. A new smaller form factor device, the CN50, was launched early June, also aimed at outdoor mobile workers. For the Warehouse, Retail and Distribution Centres our flagship products are the CK31 and CK3 products, which have a different form factor for the different types of worker and working environment. We also have non-incendive and non-combustable devices, including the CK32, which is utilised in markets such as the Petrochemical industry. 

Our products are manufactured to strict certifications such as relating to conditions such as temperature (e.g. from -20 degrees centigrade up to >60 centigrade), drop tests onto concrete and high humidity tests (particularly important for the Middle East region). This underlines the fundamental issue that the device must survive the rigours of the environment and the often not-so-gentle use by non-office workers!

How are your products differentiated from others in the market?
Intermec has been manufacturing handheld computers longer than any company and we’ve a track record of innovation. For example, we were the first manufacturer to offer four radios in a single handheld computer, with the CN3 offering Bluetooth, GPRS, Wi-Fi and GPS, way ahead of any other company. We also built the first mobile computer offering RFID-read capabilities.

The devices are highly integrated with many key components and we offer the widest range of configurable options: long range scanners/imagers, Qwerty and Numeric keypads, RFID capabilities.

In addition we also supply a mobile enterprise solution, hence peripherals such as printers (e.g. mobile or label printers) are normally required along with the handheld terminal; the fact that Intermec is the only manufacturer who can supply both the computers and printers, and other peripherals devices, is another key success factor.

What are the other elements that you offer, other than the product itself? 
Intermec offers far more than a great piece of hardware. Our success has been built upon supplying an Enterprise Mobile Platform. Hence there are other key elements:

We provide Software Development tools, and many key software utilities for security, device management and communication. Hence we work very closely with key IT vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP; ensuring full compatibility and ongoing support for many IT standards. We also have a network of hundreds of Software Development Partners, through whom there are literally thousands of applications available.

We also work closely with Cisco,  a key technology partner. This ensures full compatibility and security of our systems in networked environments such as warehouses, retail outlets and distribution centres.

Equally important is the service you get from Intermec’s Channel partner. They provide a tremendous experience related to the installation, support and management of these devices. For example deploying 1,000 handheld computers in a fleet of 1,000 trucks is a bit more challenging than installing 1,000 desktop PCs.
How strong is demand for handheld computers in this region?
The demand for these products is growing and growing, my estimate is that the demand for handheld products across the Middle east market has grown at an average rate of .20% per annum. Our own growth rate has been phenomenal at an average of 40% over the past 5 years, hence why we are the undisputed market leaders in the Middle East.

The handheld computer business has only recently moved from a niche market into the mainstream of the IT industry. There’s a lot of developments happening at the same time, fueling this growth and these changes. Firstly there are so many new, different, easier and cheaper ways to connect ‘untethered devices’: GPRS has only recently become prevalent everywhere, 3G opens up higher bandwidth, Wi-Fi is just about as pervasive as you can get and Wi-Max may open up more metropolitan networks. Compare the current availability of communications in 2009 with 2005, and there’s a world of difference.

Equally, the Software Vendors are all involved making more varied, richer and easier to use applications for the handheld device market: Microsoft has only recently become the de-facto Software standard for Handhelds with Windows Mobile 5 and 5X platforms; while Oracle, SAP, Cybase, Microsoft and a whole host of other Software companies are realising there is more revenue potential in handheld and mobile devices than the traditional desktop PC.

Plus I believe that we’ve reached an inflection point in terms of market and user acceptance, i.e. there is now sufficient experience, knowledge and confidence that many organisations appreciate that they can no longer operate their business effectively without handheld computers; i.e. we are reaching a new level of maturity. Five years ago, it was radically different; there was still a massive credibility gap in terms of accepting whether handheld technology could be successfully deployed. In fact leading pioneers and users of Intermec products such as Almarai, Binzagr, Pepsi, Aramex and FedEx have all played a great part in building up market awareness and acceptance.

How competitive is the regional market?
My simple answer is that every market is competitive, but it’s difficult to define exactly “how competitive” this market is.

Most of our competition is from manufacturers who do not understand the customer requirements. We have been selling and supporting enterprise handheld projects for liger than anyone, hence quite a proportion of our business comes from customers who have been over-sold equipment, which simply does not stand up the rigorous use by non-office mobile workers and the harsher environments in which the devices are deployed.

The key is being able to show the customer the ‘Return On Investment’, which is more important right now than ever before. We can show that cheaper less rugged devices simply won’t survive nor will they give the gains or savings he or she expects in their organisation. Again defining a ROI for a customer needs years of experience, it also needs a systems approach with an understanding of the customer’s business processes (which involves significant on-site business consultancy). If Intermec brings this consultative approach to the customer then we simply don’t lose deals and this has been the key and unique success factor for us in this region.

Which companies are using your products in this region?
We have the largest user base of handheld terminals in the region, probably more than all of our competitors put together. We are fortunate to work with many of the leading organisations in the private and public sector: Aramex and FedEx are two of the most well-known customers in the logistics sector. Pepsi, Transmed, Ali Bin Ali Group, Binzagr and National Food Products Co are major FMCG manufactures and distributors; Egypt Post, Emirates Post and Saudi Post are some of the Postal organisations using Intermec; Egypt Air, Emirates Airlines and  Saudi Airlines are 3 of our airline customers; while Saudi Telecom, Dubai Municipality and Jeddah Municipality are key Public Sector customers; while Carrefour, Union Co-op and the Malia Group are all famous customers from the Retail sector.

What challenges have you faced in the Middle East?
The key challenge continues to be building up the skill sets of the Partner Channel. Our Partner Channel are fundamental to our business and we focus heavily in building up their technical and support skills. We have successfully built up a series of in-country Service & Repair Centres across the region: >15 Centres in the region.

Intermec has been doing business in the Middle East Region for >20 years, hence we have tremendous experience and working knowledge of the region. Most of the Intermec team have >10 years experience in this business, which enables us to have an all-important insight and understanding of the real world business issues and operational challenges facing our customers.

What are your market predictions for the future?
I believe that we are the start of a new wave of deployment of handheld terminals in this region. Handheld technology is about to make another stepped incursion into the mainstream IT industry. The attach rate of mobile workers is still very limited - less than 10% - and there is therefore an enormous potential of  workers (in warehouses, in the field, in sales etc) who are still using manual paper systems. Hence I believe that we will see the automation of many new mobile workers in many new organisations; again this relates to a convergence of the availability and capability of wide area and wireless communications; of new feature applications; increased skill sets, experience and confidence within organisations and from channel partners to execute successfully on the deployment of the technology and above all else the availability of easy-to-use, scalable, multi-functioning and rugged and robust devices. 

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