Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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11/14/2008
02:11 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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What Brown Does For HP

UPS spent 18 months working with Hewlett-Packard to develop a wearable printer-scanner that should make its package sorting more efficient and significantly cut paper use. HP can now sell the printer to anyone, including UPS rivals. How's that help UPS? CIO David Barnes explains.

UPS spent 18 months working with Hewlett-Packard to develop a wearable printer-scanner that should make its package sorting more efficient and significantly cut paper use. HP can now sell the printer to anyone, including UPS rivals. How's that help UPS? CIO David Barnes explains.It's all about how the technology's put to use. "The engineering is novel, but the device by itself is just a device," says Barnes. "It's how you integrate it into a business process." The differentiator for UPS is to integrate the device, called the sp400 All-in-One, into its package-flow technologies and processes. Employees use it to scan packages as they come into a UPS center, then spray sorting information -- transmitted via Wi-Fi -- directly onto the packages with fast-drying ink.

Sorters previously carried packages to a fixed scanner connected to a large thermal printer. Besides improving efficiency of sorters, the device, once it's widely implemented, will let UPS save 1,338 tons of paper a year by not having to print sorting labels.

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For HP, this is the first product in what it hopes will be a growth segment of mobile printing devices. Clay Higgins, general manager of HP's extended printing group, says that, when UPS came to it with this idea, it didn't have a product to fit the bill. "This wasn't a derivative of an OfficeJet," Higgins says. But the team thought it might be able to develop something, if it could get inside UPS, see the problems, and use the company as a real-world test bed.

There were problems to work out. HP needed quick-drying ink that would stick to anything from plastic to cardboard. It had to figure out what colors are readable in the variable lighting from sorting line to truck bay (magenta, it turns out). And it had to build something durable enough to last in a warehouse. "We viewed it like a crescent wrench," Higgins says.

CIOs like the sound of "partnering" with vendors. Fewer, closer relationships. And vendors talk about "co-creating" products. But it's hard to do, it requires time and risk, and most companies fall short of this ideal. There's a risk for a CIO like Barnes, to share his company's industry knowledge and business requirements. It only makes sense if Barnes and his business technology team are confident they can squeeze more advantage out of the technology than their competitors can.

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