Looking for Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge in 2021 and Beyond? Take a (Virtual) Tour of the Zebra Experience Center and Talk with Technologists Who Know Your Business

Find out how a virtual executive briefing can provide actionable insights for your business as you begin to plan and execute your technology strategies.

The entrance to the Zebra Experience Center
by John Panek
December 14, 2020

When the world tipped on its axis earlier this year as a result of the global pandemic, individuals scrambled to stock up on necessities in preparation for the uncertainty to come, and the ensuing quarantines changed life on the planet as we know it. But, as doors were closing, many consumers’ eyes were opened to the workings of the supply chain for the first time. The sudden economic jolt that COVID-19 triggered also helped many supply chain organizations see just how much more visibility they needed into their operations. The imbalance of supply and demand led many to question how this could happen and, more importantly, what could be done to correct course and prevent a future recurrence.

That’s when everyone’s attention turned to technology – and particularly the Internet of Things (IoT).

How could the many different mobility, scanning, printing, RFID, sensor, computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in the market today be utilized to deliver visibility into healthcare supplies, warehouse and store shelf inventory and the raw materials available to support a manufacturing uptick? Was there a way to leverage prescriptive analytics, intelligent automation and real-time location systems to keep every link of the supply chain well-oiled and well-connected – without further straining financial or labor resources – so that businesses could quickly adapt and recover to the benefit of consumers and the world as a whole? These were the questions that Zebra’s innovators, customers and even their customers spent all day, every day, contemplating – and answering.

Of course, we knew that within Zebra’s broad portfolio there are a number of technology solutions that could inject greater efficiency into workflows and keep businesses in close touch with their customers’ needs and wants even as social distancing increased. But the lockdowns made it challenging to share these insights and tools with those who needed them urgently. So, we found a creative way to stay close and relevant to our own customers to help them overcome the immediate challenges they were facing.

As Buildings Closed, We Worked to Maintain “Business as Usual” (as Much as Possible) for Our Customers

When Zebra employees and our customers started to work from home and all travel ceased in March 2020, Zebra’s North America Experience Centers in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and Holtsville, New York, went dark. That was a bit heartbreaking at first because the Executive Briefing Program is a proud institution at Zebra, and the Zebra Experience Centers (ZEC) are where our executives, product managers, subject matter experts, futurists and strategic thought-leaders who create Zebra products and solutions meet face-to-face with hundreds of customers annually.

These executive briefings are the forums through which our customers share their strategic plans and Zebra articulates its technology vision. It’s where we align mutual goals, help our customers solve for the task at hand and ensure they have the right technology solutions and processes in place to meet their challenges that may arise long into the future.

The last thing we wanted to do was cancel the several executive briefings scheduled for March and beyond. Our customers were responding to the same challenges of a distributed workforce with many employees remaining on the front lines and the rest working virtually. So, the ZEC staff investigated ways we could still meet “face-to-face” even if it couldn’t be in person.

It immediately became evident that virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were the right technologies for these times. One customer who had planned a full-day visit with Zebra, insisted we move forward with our meeting and worked with us to revise the agenda into a 5-hour virtual briefing facilitated over Zoom. To say it was a challenge is fair, but to say it was a success is also true. This gave us the opportunities to once again “open the doors” to an experience for our customers.

Zebra officially launched our Virtual Briefing Program in April after our staff quickly researched best practices for virtual presentations, online annotation capabilities, and the more simplistic tasks of aligning the webcam and perfecting the lighting. We wanted to make the delivery of these executive briefings as pleasant and professional as possible for everyone. Few of us were accustomed to video conferencing in the volume and frequency which has now become commonplace. Using all the virtual tools at our fingertips, the first several virtual briefings sometimes consisted of finding the mute button, then finding the unmute button, dealing with background noise or simply trying to connect. It took everyone – Zebras and customers – a little while to get used to the technology in a home office setting and get over the self-consciousness of being on camera, which was another first for many people. But once we were past the technical hurdles, we found the virtual conversation still allows for effective communication, observance of body language and the ability to be relevant and highly engaging.

This was a relief to both us and our customers, as we were equally eager to maintain our collaborative relationships. Zebra wanted to be there for our customers, even when we couldn’t be on the front lines, and they wanted to know we would continue to have their backs during this crisis. The fast introduction of the Virtual Briefing Program bridged the physical gap and allowed us to pave a path toward success, no matter how much or how often the definition of success would change in the coming months.  

What You Will Experience When You Take Part in an Executive Briefing with Zebra Right Now

Each executive briefing is designed to meet the unique objectives of individual customers and includes a range of Zebra participants, each of whom is selected for his or her unique expertise and experience relative to the customer’s expressed goal. Thanks to the accessibility of the virtual briefing model, we are now seeing a number of individual attendees from the customer actively participate in a way that wasn’t possible before. Where a face-to-face briefing may have previously included 5-6 key executives and stakeholders from the customer’s organization, we often see extended teams log in from their home offices, including line managers, IT, security, and support team members. It’s not uncommon for a customer to have 12-30 individuals join at some point in the agenda.

A screenshot from a recent virtual briefing with Zebra executives and solution engineers

This has actually been an unexpected perk of the pandemic, as it gives more people involved in the implementation of new technology solutions a unique first-of-its-kind look “under the hood” at Zebra.

As our Virtual Briefing Program evolves, we are now getting beyond hosting large online meetings informed by PowerPoint slides or static screenshots of our technologies. As quarantines persist, we’re also implementing technology to provide customers live tours of the ZEC and interactive demos of our technology. And, our goal remains to have our technicians, designers and product developers available to answer questions, collaborate on ideas and provide a vision aligned with the customer’s long-term goals. That’s why each virtual briefing starts in the same way as a face-to-face meeting, with a customized and agreed-to agenda that addresses the needs of our customer.

In other words, with a virtual briefing, Zebra customers still receive:

  • A fully customized experience
  • Rich insights into industry trends
  • Full access to Zebra executives and experts
  • As close to the same in-person experience they would have received from an on-site visit

That being said, “Zoom fatigue” is real. Attending extended meetings on a virtual platform can be exhausting, even if they are highly engaging. Professional meeting planners suggest a short break every hour or breaking a meeting into segments. So, we have organized several briefings in which we met with different stakeholder groups of a customer’s organization over the course of several days. (No, they are not all five-hours long!)

With one retailer, the briefing with the “front-of-store” program director lasted several hours on Tuesday and we then met with the “back of store” and distribution team on Thursday. With this approach, the briefing becomes more relevant for each attendee and we’re able to minimize the distractions and attention losses ever present in a marathon session.

What You Will Gain by Participating in a Virtual Executive Briefing with Zebra Experts

We have hosted hundreds of briefings virtually since March, and each has proven to be an eye-opening experience for our team and our customers. In fact, an unexpected positive result of meeting virtually has been the larger-than-normal volume of briefings. We’ve even had customers who would not typically have the ability to travel due to work obligations (i.e. front-line workers) or physical distance (i.e. international customers) recently request – and benefit greatly from – virtual briefings.

What’s most noteworthy, though, is that both Zebra account teams and our customers have reported that the things they are now accomplishing in just a few hours would have previously taken a full day or more with travel. Customers are able to remain close to the executives, product managers, account managers, subject matter experts, innovators and support teams within Zebra that can help them advance their initiatives. And though the benefit of face-to-face interaction and the physical hands-on experience of the Executive Briefing Program could not be completely duplicated or substituted in this virtual setting, the discussion and knowledge transfer has enabled projects to keep moving forward.

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If you’re interested in learning more about how a virtual briefing can help you achieve your goals, or if you’re ready to schedule a briefing for your team, visit www.zebra.com/ZEC.

You can also get a sneak peek of the executive briefing experience in this short video:

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John Panek
As manager of the Executive Briefing Program and Experience Centers in North America, John Panek facilitates impactful customer encounters with solutions and portfolio, executives, industry experts and thought leaders.