Automations We Love: Using Intelligent Automation to Monitor and Troubleshoot 84,000+ IoT Devices

For businesses that sell physical products, every single day is a web of complex, interconnecting workflows that have to go off without a hitch. Even the most mundane back-end processes (like shipping a package) directly shape the customer experience. So errors in those processes don’t just affect your efficiency as a company; they can change your bottom line.

Logistics processes like shipping and receiving, however, are some of the most unwieldy workflows to manage. They don’t just span multiple applications like your ERP; they also include hardware, like the printers used to generate shipping labels.

That’s an added layer of complexity, because now you also have to monitor for (and troubleshoot) hardware issues as quickly as possible—before they can delay a shipment, trigger angry messages from customers, and impact your costs and revenue. If you’re shipping products out at a high volume, that can feel next to impossible.

There’s some good news, though: thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent automation, it’s possible to monitor hardware and automatically create service tickets in real-time—as soon as an item encounters a problem. Here’s one way the world’s largest retailer could use intelligent automation to track and troubleshoot over 84,000 printers across 42 separate distribution centers.

Who? The world’s largest retailer.

What are they doing with Workato? Keeping more than 84,000 IoT printer devices up and running, and automatically submitting tickets in the event of a malfunction.

The Challenge: With more than 42 separate distribution centers shipping millions of dollars worth of goods every month, the retailer relies on individually-printed barcode labels to identify and route each package. When a printer goes down for whatever reason, it can slow down the entire shipping process. But identifying a broken printer—and getting expert help troubleshooting it—has to happen quickly, before it noticeably affects the distribution center’s operations.

The Solution: By integrating with Zebra printer APIs using Workato’s connector SDK, the company can automatically create tickets in QuickBase (to empower self-service) and in ServiceNow (if IT escalation is necessary) with printer/scanner identifier, location, status, and error details so that issues can be resolved quickly.

The Results:

  • Real-time monitoring of more than 84,000 printers and scanners across 42 distribution centers
  • 360° view of all devices with geo-location for faster infrastructure issue resolution time and increased device uptime
  • Reduced operational costs due to faster resolution

Using Intelligent Automation to Communicate the Status of 84,000+ IoT Devices and Streamline Troubleshooting

Intelligent automation helps the world's largest retailer monitor IoT devices.

For the world’s largest retailer, distribution centers are at the heart of almost every activity. That’s where items go before they’re sent to stores or to customers—where they’re labeled, sorted, and loaded onto trucks headed to the correct destination.

To keep track of all the items leaving each distribution center, the company uses a variety of printers and scanners that generate a unique barcode label to route each outgoing package and to scan the barcodes of incoming packages. But because the volume of packages is so high—there are 42 distribution centers supporting 50-100 stores each, and each center can be as large as two million square feet—it’s hard to keep all of the devices operational. Errors, normal wear-and-tear, and other issues frequently mean that business-critical printers and scanners don’t work.

Initially, the company would simply replace each broken printer and scanner. This solution quickly became very expensive, however, due to the sheer number of devices in use. It would be much cheaper to troubleshoot a printer or scanner instead and fix it if possible.

Continuously monitoring over 84,000 devices, however, isn’t easy. Because the printers and scanners aren’t all from one brand, they can’t all be monitored in the same way. Some can be monitored via API; others can only share their status via web URL, which must then be parsed for information.

As a solution, the retailer sought to create an automated device monitoring workflow. With a combination of Java, APIs, and Workato’s on-premise agent, the retailer could bring all device statuses into a central dashboard in Quick Base.

If a printer is broken or encounters an error, Workato could automatically create a ticket in Quick Base and notify the right maintenance worker in the distribution center via Slack or SMS so they could troubleshoot the issue. If they cannot resolve the problem, they could escalate the issue to IT or the device’s vendor; depending on who needs to be contacted, Workato could either automatically create a ticket in ServiceNow or prompt the maintenance worker to initiate contact with the vendor.

Overall, the workflow would be a gamechanger for the retailer, allowing them to continuously monitor thousands of devices and instantly know when one is broken or offline. By enabling distribution centers and IT to immediately troubleshoot hardware issues—rather than simply replace devices—the retailer would effectively decrease the cost of its logistics operations by millions of dollars each year.

Want to learn more about using Workato for cutting-edge workflows like this one? Speak with an integration advisor >

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