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Mythbusters: There is No Retail “Silver Bullet”

Myth: There’s a reoccurring theme that my sales team has heard while out in the field talking to today’s business leaders—a misconception that there’s a single retail “silver-bullet” device that can solve frontline hourly workers’ mobile communication needs, while at the same time giving them the ability to complete operational tasks, for example, scanning or mobile POS in a retail store. It’s time to dispel this myth and dig deeper into the realities of connecting large enterprise workforces.

Busted: Having a single device to solve all problems is an appealing idea. On the surface, it seems so much easier to have one technology, one decision, one implementation, and one solution to maintain. For a while, handhelds were expected to be the answer. But there are a number of issues that have prevented screen-based handheld mobile devices from living up to the hype:

  • Screen-based devices require hands and eyes, which is problematic for many roles. Particularly with customer-facing team members, maintaining eye contact with a guest while finding answers is a must. Businesses need an alternative form factor that allows team members to communicate and find information while using their hands and eyes to complete other tasks – not one that ties up their hands and monopolizes their gaze.
  • Different jobs have different needs. While handhelds offer extensive capabilities, it doesn’t make sense to outfit an entire workforce with robust devices when much of their functionality is likely to go unused.
  • It goes without saying that it’s cost-prohibitive to outfit every employee on staff with today’s mobile handheld devices. It just doesn’t scale enterprise wide. In addition to the expense of units themselves organizations often underestimate the cost of break-fix, maintenance plans, replacement batteries, and custom software development costs.

Many companies have tried a BYOD (bring your own device) policy to streamline handheld deployment across their organizations. But regulatory issues, labor laws and employees’ resistance to adding necessary security software to their personal devices have significantly limited the effectiveness of these programs. The reality is, handheld device adoption rates run well below 20% on average.

Now, I’m not advocating the elimination of handheld devices, by any means. Handhelds offer hugely important functionality for key roles. This is not an either/or conversation. It’s about building the right ecosystem for your organization: one that can provide specialized functionality for those who need it while also ensuring a baseline of mobile connectivity and access for every member of the team. This last bit is important, because without a common platform that first connects people to each other, teamwork can’t thrive and other activities suffer.

Fortunately, the growth of IoT, conversational computing, and Wi-Fi everywhere have led to the emergence of an entirely different mobile option, one that better fits the physical requirements of most frontline roles. Instead of relying on fingers to type messages, team members can use their voice to get the information they need to do their jobs, without having to, literally, lift a finger. Coupled with a small IoT endpoint that provides the mobile connection to the voice platform, users can request help and information from an intelligent virtual assistant that can route questions and responses to the right places instantly.

Retail Silver Bullet

That’s what we offer here at Theatro. As the first mobile platform designed specifically for frontline employees, Theatro uses mobile voice technology to connect hard-to-reach employees with their enterprises. Theatro’s Intelligent Voice Assistant gives every frontline employee the ability to collaborate, connect, and feel – sometimes for the first time – like a true member of the team. Yet while employee engagement has its own benefits, Theatro’s closed loop workflows also drive significant enhancements in labor productivity with the help of automated escalation, accountability, and targeted communication.

  • Theatro’s platform is designed to enable 100% connectivity of frontline employees. But it exists as part of an ecosystem – it isn’t meant to replace existing tools. As such, it integrates seamlessly with handheld solutions that may already be in use by select employees with a need for key functionality, for example, scanning capabilities.
  • Theatro’s voice-enabled form factor is heads-up and hands-free so team members can stay engaged in their current task or with customers. Many operations that are visually-driven today can be driven audibly instead at a fraction of the cost.
  • Since Theatro owns and manages its mobile device hardware, they assume the risk around breakage, loss and obsolescence. This makes Theatro more cost-effective up front, but also simplifies hardware management on an ongoing basis.

Instinctively, we would all love to find a single device that meets the needs of all the different employee types across an enterprise. But there is no “silver bullet” that will achieve this nirvana. But we can start by establishing a common infrastructure that supports the universal need for communication, integrates with multiple applications, and can be accessed easily, consistently, and in a way that doesn’t disrupt their other job duties.

Theatro’s conversational computing platform brings all this together. It’s an extensible and API-rich platform that allows our workforce-optimized apps to seamlessly interact with other hand-held devices or existing systems for order management, human capital management, task management, etc. It’s time businesses broadened their definition of mobile connectivity to encompass the latest in voice technology—a technology that wasn’t available a decade ago (let alone five years ago) when handheld devices were the only mobile solution out there. Times have changed and so too must our mobile solution strategy.