By Matt Kowalski | June 10, 2019

The Next Frontier of Digital Transformation

Zebra Gives Developers and Independent Software Vendors the Tools to Drive Better Business Outcomes Using Data and APIs with New Zebra Data Services™

Enterprises are at the inflection point of a generational digital transformation. There is growing industry consensus that the use and analysis of business data can help streamline workflows, identify supply chain bottlenecks and predict better business outcomes.

Thus, the concerted effort we’re seeing among businesses of all sizes and in all public and private sectors to collect data in several different ways.  Today, data collection is typically done on a hardware device via a barcode scan, an RFID signal, or a “written” input via a digital pen or keyboard or a captured image. As a result, the volume of data captured with every input is rapidly increasing.

For example, every barcode contains data about that product to which the barcode is affixed. This may range from the product type and manufacture date to the inspection or maintenance history; or the quality of the product at each supply chain touchpoint to the product’s utilization statistics to-date.

Then there is the data captured and shared via passive or active RFID tag signals. Active RFID tags are powered by a battery and automatically broadcast their signal to provide the location of an asset, for example. Passive RFID tags do not have a power source and only transmit a signal upon receiving radio frequency energy released from an RFID reader that’s within proximity of the tag.

Regardless of the collection method, the question becomes – what insight does that data provide?  How can we use this now readily-accessible data to uncover previously unseen opportunities – or issues – deep within our organization? How do we analyze and apply this data in a meaningful way?

That is why we recently opened up access to Zebra Data Services™ to software developers and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) worldwide.

Looking to the Past, and Keeping a Pulse on the Present, Will Help You Achieve Better Outcomes in the Future

As a trusted enterprise technology advisor and industry pioneer, Zebra helps guide partners and customers to make the right business and technology decisions – to be more efficient, productive and profitable.

With Zebra Data Services, software developers and ISVs will be able to leverage APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that will take advantage of our Zebra Savanna™ intelligent edge platform to unlock previous unused enterprise data. Developers will be able to use this real-time edge data – which is being generated by a host of devices within business environments – to develop new applications and solutions that will empower them to deliver new levels of service, improve operational safety and achieve higher productivity levels at greater profitability. (Just look at what Problem Solutions and StayLinked have been able to accomplish through its participation in the Zebra Data Services Early Adopter Program.)

For example, you can now login to the Zebra Developer Portal to access an out-of-the-box blockchain traceability API.

Though there are several potential applications, this API could be especially beneficial for those responsible for food safety. Consider this example:

A head of romaine lettuce is picked in a field near Fresno, California, and packed into a case. The lettuce grower, using a Zebra mobile computer, enters information into that device about the lettuce that was just harvested: time, date and place picked; geo-location; case number; loading truck, etc.

That information, once entered into the rugged handheld or tablet computer, is also sent to the secure digital blockchain ledger in the cloud. A barcode label containing all the information pertaining to the lettuce is then printed using a Zebra mobile printer and affixed to the case of lettuce.

The truck carrying the case of lettuce leaves the field near Fresno and departs for Los Angeles International (LAX) airport. At LAX, the lettuce case is unloaded, and the barcode on the case is scanned once again to confirm a touchpoint in the distribution chain.

Any additional information pertaining to the lettuce case – such as the time the truck arrived, condition of the lettuce, etc. – is entered by the receiver at LAX and again sent to the blockchain ledger in the cloud as well as other back-end systems that aid in supply chain collaboration, support the mobile workflow and more.

The case of lettuce is then loaded onto a plane and flown to John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport in New York.  Upon arrival at JFK, the case is again scanned, and additional information such as the time of arrival, flight number, recipient, etc., is once again added to the blockchain and the cloud-based workflow systems via the mobile computers used by the logistics company at that site.

The lettuce case is then loaded onto a truck for shipment to the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, one of the largest wholesale produce markets in the world, where most of New York City’s produce is collected, sold and distributed.  The barcode on the lettuce case is scanned, and any additional information is documented and again sent to the blockchain and the cloud-based business systems.

The lettuce now embarks on its final leg to a Manhattan restaurant or grocery store, where it is delivered to the end consumer, and the final information about the lettuce’s journey is logged and sent to the blockchain and the cloud (i.e. time arrived, condition, who signed for the lettuce, etc.)

In the event of an FDA recall or food safety issue (i.e. an e-Coli breakout), food companies would be able use the blockchain traceability API from Zebra Savanna Data Services to check and identify problem lettuce. As a result, only the affected lettuce would be destroyed; this minimizes waste and undue losses for growers and their supply chain partners while helping to quell consumer fears and mass market shortages.

Another API that is now offered via Zebra Data Services is focused on Barcode Intelligence. As with the blockchain traceability API, there are several potential applications in the transportation, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. However, one that is especially noteworthy is in healthcare.

There are several regulations around the world that require healthcare providers to be able to trace all products used in medical operations. The European Union (EU) Medical Devices Regulation is one. The Zebra Data Services barcode intelligence API could prove especially beneficial in the case of a medical device recall. Consider this example:

In a hospital, a clinician uses a Zebra handheld mobile computer, scanner or rugged tablet to scan the barcode on a medical device that's about to be implanted into a patient to remove it from inventory and prepare it for surgery. 

The scanned barcode from the device is sent to Zebra Data Services API to do a “barcode intelligence” scan for any potential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) device recalls against the FDA database as well as other Zebra Savanna-linked business systems that house data on that medical device. The results of that Zebra Data Services API search are returned to the clinician conducting the medical device scan on their device. 

The application on the user side would result in an error message informing the clinician to NOT use that medical device and take a new action with the item since it was flagged as part of an FDA recall. To encapsulate the barcode intelligence API even further, a user can scan a barcode to find all of the data associated with that barcode, enabling an end user to take the best next action in that workflow, whether that be placing the potentially harmful medical device aside to prevent use in a patient or alerting other medical staff members to not use that particular device.        

These two examples are just the start of what’s possible now that the Zebra Data Services APIs are available broadly to developers and ISVs.

Zebra underwent a two-phased Zebra Data Services Early Adopter Partner (EAP) Program in 2018 with a handful of developers and ISVs* to demonstrate many of the business problems that the Zebra Data Services APIs could solve:

EAP Phase One*:

Phase One took place during the first half of 2018 with ISVs, software developers and business innovators such as Problem Solutions and StayLinked. Each spent several months maturing hypothetical API use cases into real-life applications using Savanna Data Services:

  • Problem Solutions: Safety notifications for incidents involving oil spills, gas or water leaks
  • StayLinked: A business intelligence platform 

StayLinked talks more about their experience in this video:

EAP Phase Two

Phase Two, which took place in the second half of 2018, enabled Problem Solutions and StayLinked to continue development. It also allowed other ISVs, software developers and business innovators such as Doddle and QodeNext to launch their innovation efforts:

  • Doddle: A retail solution offering real-time visibility into product returns
  • QodeNext: An anti-counterfeit solution

The Zebra Data Services team will continue to work with each of these companies as they expand their development efforts.

Savanna Data Services APIs are ready for mass-market utilization, thus the announcement this week about their addition to Zebra’s global product portfolio. Our hope is that you (or your customers) will now have the tools you need to unlock the previously-unused enterprise data that needed to achieve your business improvement goals.

Now, you may be asking: How are the Savanna Data Services (SDS) APIs different from the APIs that I (as a Zebra developer, customer or partner) can access today via the Zebra Developer Portal?

Good question. APIs are certainly not new to Zebra.  We currently offer several APIs free of charge to our partners and customers, such as enterprise mobility developer kits (EMDKs) for Android™, barcode managers and Personal Shopper to name a few.

However, Zebra Data Services will be sold via a web-based, self-service model for developers and ISVs who want to leverage the APIs. That is because these APIs are designed to assist with solving very specific business problem for our customers, much like mobile computers facilitate data sharing and communications or RFID location services improve asset tracking. Their use cases and ultimate application are highly tailored to the customer’s wants and needs.

We like to use a restaurant analogy to explain the value of the new Zebra Data Services APIs:

Software Developers and ISVs are looking for a place to eat with their customers.  In making their selection, they have concerns to consider – some customers eat only certain foods, some have allergies, some have dietary restrictions.  In making a restaurant selection, the developers and ISVs must take these concerns into consideration to ensure their customers enjoy the dining experience.

To address their customers’ dining concerns, developers may look online for a cuisine they want and need at the time, one that will address the concerns.  Choices are debated based on a variety of factors, such as cuisine, popularity, favorability ratings and if the choice addresses their customers’ concerns.  When consensus is reached and a decision is made, an establishment is chosen, and all depart for that restaurant.

Upon arriving, being seated, looking at the menu and ordering, orders are given to a server. The server goes into the kitchen and brings the order to your table. Think of a Zebra Data Services API as that server.

Zebra Data Services provide online API access to software developers and ISVs via the Zebra Developer Portal, so that in turn, you can have deep, meaningful insights into the performance of your business (and/or supply chain) operations. This will enable you to proactively anticipate potential quality, safety or maintenance issues along your value chain and take pre-emptive measures. The actionable data sets generated by Zebra Data Services APIs will also alert you to new, unpredictable issues in real time, helping you to quickly pinpoint the source of the failure and understand the most efficient and effective resolution strategy. As a result, your workers are able to become more efficient and productive and your business more profitable – enabling you to capture your distinct edge.


*Editor’s Note: The Zebra Data Services EAP program partners were selected based on interest, use case, reputation and capability to perform software applications. Zebra assigned individual program managers to each partner to assist as needed throughout the API/solution development process.

Innovative Ideas, Inside Zebra Nation, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Retail, Field Operations, Healthcare, Hospitality, Public Sector, Transportation and Logistics,
Matt Kowalski
Matt Kowalski

Matt Kowalski directs Business Operations for Zebra Technologies’ Chief Technology Office (CTO). His vast experience spans a wide array of disciplines and functions – product management, competitive intelligence, business and customer development, market research, operations, portfolio marketing, intellectual property, business strategy, product lifecycle management and voice of the customer. 

Matt’s global product launches include long-range barcode scanners, mobile computers, APIs and software. He currently holds two technology patents.

Matt has a bachelor’s degree from New York University (NYU), a Professional Certification in Market Research from the University of Georgia, a Six Sigma Green Belt and an MBA from Fordham University’s Gabelli Business School at Lincoln Center in New York City.

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