Developing an end-to-end field service technology road map: Part Two: Is Consumer, Semi Rugged or Rugged the right way to go for your mobile workforce?

Sep 16, 2014 • FeaturesHardwareEnd to end field servicefield service europehardware

Ahead of taking part in a live panel discussion on End to End field service management at this years Field Service Europe Conference, Field Service News Editor Kris Oldland, is writing a series of features around the topic…

In this the second feature in the series he looks at whether your company should be selecting consumer grade hardware, semi rugged or rugged for best value. You can also read the first feature in this series here

There is a lot of discussion around whether field service organisations should invest in consumer devices or specialist rugged devices with strong advocates with equally compelling arguments sitting on both sides of the fence. So lets look at some of the more commonly heard arguments shall we…

The Familiarity Argument

Pretty much ever since the iPhone first entered the market back in 2007 Smart Phones have become commonplace and are now reaching saturation point within almost all developed world geographies. Indeed with the news that Indian firm Karbonn has launched a perfectly acceptable smart phone for just £26, it would seem that the developing and third worlds will soon be following suit also.

The latest fully rugged devices are becoming sleek looking, lightweight devices which look light-years away from their bulky equivalents of just a few years ago

 The result of such saturation is that almost each and everyone of us is now comfortable and at ease with such devices. This of course includes our mobile workers too. So when rolling out a new piece of hardware if you turn towards one of the big three mobile operating systems in the consumer realm (i.e. Apple’s IoS, Google’s Android or Microsofts Windows 8.1) the likelihood is that you will achieve high adoption rates quickly, as the devices act and respond in the same manner as the employees personal devices – whether they be tablet or smart phone.


However, such is the pace of the evolutionary arms race that is mobile computing, even the latest fully rugged devices are becoming sleek looking, lightweight devices which look light-years away from their bulky equivalents of just a few years ago. Take for example the latest device from Getac the T800, which whilst being a powerful device, is also  proven to be fully rugged up to military standards, and could quite easily be mistaken for a standard consumer tablet.

Similarly rugged devices are readily found in both Windows and Android flavours so familiarity with operating systems should also be swift thanks to the proliferation of smart phones. So whilst familiarity may claimed as one benefit of consumer devices the truth is this no longer really the case.

The prestige argument

A little earlier this year I interviewed Dave Hart, VP Global Customer Transformation at ServiceMax for one of our podcasts.  However, for most of the half an hour or so we were talking we focussed on his previous role as European Vice President of Pitney Bowes and he made a very interesting point around the franking giants decision to role out Apple iPad’s to their field service staff.

Hart made the decision to not only issue each of his mobile workforce with an iPad but to give them ownership of their device as well. The result was that his fieldworkers responded by taking greater responsibility and Pitney Bowes saw breakages fall to practically zero.

In his own words Hart explains:

“I went out with an engineer for the day and asked him ‘we really budgeted that we would break more of these things, why do you think they are not breaking?’ the engineer turn round to me and said ‘one of the things you guys did was to allow us to use this device personally as well as for business. If I went home and my iPad is broken my kids would kill me!’”

Given the fact that Pitney Bowes were braking 200 PDAs per anum prior to the shift and Hart defined the breakage rate as ‘absolutely negligible maybe one or two out of thousands’ since moving to iPads it would appear that by giving their mobile workers a desirable consumer device that they cherished and giving them ownership of those devices,  there is indeed a solid tangible benefit.

The TCO argument

Whilst for a company like Pitney Bowes, whose field service engineers are mostly working with in an office environment, iPad’s or similar consumer grade devices may well prove to be ideal, there are many other industry verticals where field engineers mobile devices are put through their paces in a far tougher environments. It is in such scenarios that the often-heard total cost of ownership (TCO) argument rings true.

“If you’re working in what we term a critical working environment, i.e. if its cold its wet or you can drop the device then that is definitely a rugged space.

 The simple premise of the TCO argument is that whilst purchasing a consumer grade device may be the cheaper option in the short term, longer term if we factor in the cost of replacement devices plus of course the downtime whilst waiting for replacement devices etc across a period of three to five years (the general accepted period that a devices will remain current) the cost of purchasing more reliable, rugged devices would have proven much lower.


One such proponent of this argument is Getac UK President Peter Molyneux who commented:

“If you’re working in what we term a critical working environment, i.e. if its cold its wet or you can drop the device then that is definitely a rugged space. The discussion really is just whether its what we call semi rugged or fully rugged.”

Molyneux also goes on to point out that as the cost of rugged devices falls, so the TCO argument holds even greater weight. Although he does also admits there is certainly a gap for consumer technology.

“The return on investment on a fully rugged notebook may have cost you £2500 to £3000 not that long ago…” he explains “… today products can be less than £1700 dependent on spec. But if you go forward consumer technology is yet to be proven in the field, there will be applications where it will be fine and applications where it’s not.”

Of course it is the “not’s” where Getac and other specialist rugged manufacturers see their market and where TCO truly comes into play.

Where better to start than with your own field service engineers?

Molyneux’s point about rugged or semi rugged also adds to the conundrum and further emphasises the importance of understanding the workflow of your field engineers, which we touched on in the first article in this series.

Whilst some organisations, like Pitney Bowes will be able to fully realise their needs with consumer grade devices, others such as utilities companies will see far greater benefit in a more rugged solution where despite a larger initial outlay the actual TCO is much lower across a three-year period.

Which is right for your organisation? As with any investment you must take a detailed look at all of the possibilities, where possible look at solutions other companies in your vertical have taken and try to find out the pain points they have felt as much as the successes they have had.

There is no one size fits all option when it comes to field service hardware, what’s right for one company may not be right for another. However, it certainly pays to know that there are a variety of options available to you from off the shelf consumer right through to military standard rugged.

The next step is finding out where on the spectrum your needs are. Almost certainly the best place to start is to take time out to see some of your field engineers in action.


Should you wish to attend the event, which is held in Amsterdam on the 20th to the 22nd October, then you can register for tickets by clicking this link