Sometimes, maybe all the time, the simplest way to implement a technology is the best way. My latest evidence of this truth came from a discussion with James Walsh, vice president of IT at Tumi, a South Plainfield, N.J., luggage maker. After being somewhat apologetic for carrying an Ogio rather than a Tumi, I got to talking with Walsh about the Tumi innovation of providing each bag with a serial tracking number. If you forget your Tumi or leave it in a taxi, a free call to Tumi by the finder can get the bag back in the users hands.
So, how did Tumi develop that tracking number? And would it someday be replaced by an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip or some other high-tech tracking device? The fact that we were speaking at an SAP user event was an especially good setting for discussing the development of the serial tag on each bag. "I used the activate serialize numbers command in SAP," said Walsh.
The activate serialize command is one of SAPs most basic functions, but using it to provide a way to track not only the manufacture of a product but also its use was the simple innovation Walsh needed.
Tumi can now help users recover lost bags and also help stop counterfeit bags from being sold. A counterfeit bag might look exactly like a Tumi, but the serial number developed in the manufacturing process cant be counterfeited without being discovered.
A simple solution is often available, but it requires innovative thinking to apply that solution to a new problem.
The serial number is an example of "technology being part of your product," said Walsh. In some examples, the technology might be the most apparent feature, while in others—such as the ID tag—the technology sits behind what appears to be a very simple way to help locate lost bags. The tag and a free phone number is a better use than one requiring RFID scanners and other higher-tech locators that work well in a lab but would fail the taxi test. If you make it difficult for the taxi driver to figure out how to get the bag back to the customer, you have made the wrong tech choice to incorporate into your product.
Too often the mix of business planning and technology purchasing gets bogged down in a cumbersome process of committees, RFPs (requests for proposal) and meetings piled upon meetings. It is a bit like that old joke about replacing the burned-out light bulb. Before replacing that light bulb, the modern business and technology committee would first have to come up with a business reason to replace the bulb; the committee would have to come up with an evaluation on the types of lighting technologies (both open and proprietary) available; and the final RFP would be specific down to the number of turns the bulb should require to achieve the optimal contact with the socket. Meanwhile, the janitor would see the bulb has burned out, grab the stepladder and get the company back in the light.
The best new technologies are successful because they simplify rather than add complexity to a process. The development of virtualized operating systems (which we have written about and tested extensively) holds the promise of a way to simply manage the many different operating systems found running in most companies. SOAs (service-oriented architectures) hold the promise of providing a set of common interfaces into existing applications rather than having to build each interface from scratch.
Both virtualization and SOAs will succeed if they simplify the computing infrastructure morass, which exists at many corporations today.
The right technology solution for your company is probably the simplest solution and may be as nearby as the serial numbers being produced by your manufacturing system.
Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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