Addressing Modernization and Migration in Supply Chain Environments

Padraig_ReganStayLinked recently interviewed one of their own — Padraig Regan, StayLinked General Manager, Europe, to get an insiders perspective of terminal emulation (TE) in the supply chain. Regan began his career as an application developer before taking on the role of General Manager at StayLinked, and his experience has provided him with a unique perspective. He explains, “I’ve always used technology to give benefit, new value, improved productivity, visibility, and performance to the end user, the person doing the work at the end of the day.” Regan believes in focusing on improving the customer’s experience and the worker’s productivity. His goal at StayLinked is to make sure that they are not focusing on anything other than delivering additional productivity to the end customer. Let’s take a look at some of Padraig’s thoughts and experiences around terminal emulation.

The Evolution of Terminal Emulation in the Supply Chain
According to Regan, terminal emulation is usually implemented in warehouses distribution centers, rail yards, and ports. The processes are typically centered on supply chain logistics. In warehouses, for example, they use of terminal emulation to manage older warehouse processes like receiving goods, putting them away in the warehouse, picking the items, performing cycle counts, and then shipping the items to customers to fulfill orders.

“We believe that two-thirds of the industrial devices that are out there at the moment—ruggedized, semi-ruggedized, handheld, vehicle mounts, and tablets—are still running terminal emulation,” he says. “These devices are being used in a single-purpose scenario, which is important because the kinds of processes that are being run on this technology are fundamental processes for the organizations we work with.”

The Problem with Terminal Emulation
Since Terminal Emulation, and telnet, is based on is a 47-year old protocol, it looks a bit aged and customers know it as the “green screen”. Says Regan, “If a company is trying to project an image of being modern by using appropriate technology to run its business, then TE is not a very good reflection of that. The problem is, although ugly, TE is extremely reliable, resilient, and performs extremely well. The idea of throwing away old technology just because of an unappealing appearance doesn’t seem very sensible. But, if there’s no way to beautify those old solutions, then you’ve got to do something.”

One emerging trend from hardware manufacturers is the release of modern devices without any keyboard. “Windows Mobile and Windows CE dominated and were the go-to operating systems over the past 20 years,” says Regan. “And suddenly, there is a move to Android.”

“A web interface can be written for the application, but it is expensive, time consuming, and may never provide the same level of performance as the original Terminal Emulation solution,” he says. “An application also won’t give you the kind of interactivity workers need, fast scanning rates, etc.”
There’s often not just one application, but a range of applications, to cover the different processes that are being used and this is the challenge that the customer faces. “If a web interface is written and it’s going to work across different platforms and operating systems it’s going to be very difficult and time-consuming to design, build, and test,” he says.

Terminal Emulation Modernization
“Terminal emulation modernization is about constructing a more appealing user interface,” Regan explains. “People expect to interact with an application that is cutting-edge and user-friendly. The push to reestablish this program is accomplished by enhancing the user interface to include apps, and touch-navigation came when major manufacturers began the development and introduction of devices without keyboards.”

Specific Experiences with Modernized Terminal Emulation
“A reseller who had a customer with a TE application wanted to use these new devices, so they needed to modernize,” Regan says. “The device already comes with a modernization tool and they had tried that. This application has seven different variants, in seven different languages because this app was rolled out across all of the customer’s subsidiaries across Europe. They spent weeks building a modern version, designing over 600 new screens in this tool.”

He continues, “At the end of that process, they had an app that worked and they rolled it out, but what they discovered is that, first, if any change happens in the back-end, it’s going to dismantle their screens. Unfortunately, they determined, from a maintainability perspective, this doesn’t work. If there’s a change to the back-end, they will likely have to go and redesign a large portion of those 600 screens again. This application has seven different variants, in seven different languages because this app was rolled out across all the customer’s subsidiaries across Europe.”

Continuing Modernization
Customers spend a lot of time, money, and resources and in most cases they are not able to make it work. The last three or four large companies that Regan sat with have been quite frustrated and angered: “They have this software on their devices which is supposed to work, and it’s supposed to allow them to modernize their applications, and it simply doesn’t…yet.”

Stay tuned for part two of our special Terminal Emulation series with Padraig Regan, StayLinked General Manager, Europe.

Learn more about TE at Staylinked.

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