Of horses and carts - ruggedness and reliability in tablet PC selection in the utilities sector

Oct 30, 2014 • FeaturesHardwaremotion computing

Recent independent research conducted by VDC found that the top criteria for evaluating mobile devices to support applications in the utilities sector are reliability / quality. Ian Davies of Motion Computing explains more...

By comparison, the issues of water / dust ingress protection and drop protection were third and sixth respectively, mixed with large scale issues such as security and specific features such as GPS performance.

The mobile hardware industry does tend to make a fetish of ruggedisation - and rightfully so. The fundamental difference between a consumer unit and an enterprise tablet PC is the need to perform in any given environment. Consequently, the ability to demonstrate the level of abuse these units can take is important and there is a need to know what precisely has and has not been tested in order to map hardware capabilities onto job demands.

But reliability is far bigger than ruggedisation and it is time to put the horse back in front of the cart instead of letting stress test ratings continually define how tablet PCs are understood in the workplace.

Reliability pulls ruggedisation into the wider issue of the units function, not just its features. This focuses attention on the unit being relied upon to do the job it was intended for, not just the ability to pass lab tests.

In the real world, utility workers need to perform these tasks consistently and efficiently, so the technology has to be a proven solution - the real-world definition of reliability is the trustworthiness of a unit to perform.

Excellence in the utilities sector is the ability to consistently perform tasks out in the field. That excellence is based on the complete user experience, not just stress tests of the hardware.

This includes far more than IP or MIL ratings. For example, features such as the mode of input choices, integration with back office systems, even something as simple as the outdoor visibility of the screen all contribute to the consistency and effectiveness of the unit. Battery life is another great example - it impacts directly on the reliability of a unit but is nothing to do with its ruggedisation - and research has shown that almost 2/3 of business users say that their tablet does not last a full shift.


In this context it is easy to see why QUALITY is linked so closely to RELIABILITY. Excellence in the utilities sector is the ability to consistently perform tasks out in the field. That excellence is based on the complete user experience, not just stress tests of the hardware.

Jon Regan, Head of SAP Competency Centre in Thames Water explained how this arose in their selection of tablet PCs: “Our trial included over 200 users and we tracked a range of factors, from general user perception, physical features and battery life to toughness, application usage and screen usability. Positive comments on the ergonomics, size, weight and design of the device, as well as the accuracy of the pen input, the photo editing application and the screen viewing angle were consistent across all users.”

According to VDC, 2014 mobility budgets are expected to increase by 11% over 2013 and it is this interaction of reliability and quality that explains WHY utilities want to deploy mobile technologies so eagerly. The same VDC research showed that improving worker productivity and lowering operational costs were the two top drivers. Whilst the improved productivity is driven by keenly aligned features it is the reliability that leads to consistent performance that can help reduce costs.

It is also worth remembering the sheer scale of this opportunity - the European mobile utility workforce is the fastest-growing workforce segment. It currently consists of 900,000 workers, and by the year 2018, it will reach 1.2 million. Developing a mature focus on a workflow based assessment of activities instead of a feature fetish and chasing ever increasing levels of ruggedisation, will be a hallmark of those companies that lead in this industry