As we see consumer-grade devices becoming increasingly more ruggedised with many high-end devices now being IP68 certified is there any need for field service companies to continue to invest in more expensive equivalents offered by specialist rugged manufacturers?
As high-end consumer units become better rated (for example high-end Samsung phones have been IP68 for some time now) the question arises will rugged eventually die out as a category of mobile devices?
Tom Kost, Director of Product Marketing at Xplore Technologies is someone that firmly believes this won’t be the case.
As high-end consumer units become better rated the question arises will rugged eventually die out as a category of mobile devices?“Absolutely not,” he states. “There are dozens of companies offering what they call “rugged” devices and hope that those 6 letters will win the sale. Yet, a mobile device that claims to offer rugged protection via the addition of a Gorilla Glass screen or external rubber casing will never come close to offering the protection, power and performance of a device that’s engineered to be rugged to the core.”
“Simply making an otherwise fragile consumer device waterproof or dustproof (IP68-rated) does not make it a viable option for heavy field use, as “consumer rugged” brands want you to believe. Water and dust are not the only hazards threatening device reliability, data security or even worker safety, all of which matter to field service organizations. Deeming a tablet, laptop or handheld PC that will be used in professional environments as “rugged” using a single spec is not just risky, but irresponsible,” he asserts.
Jackson White, Business Development Director at Getac takes a slightly more measured approach to the relationship between consumer and rugged devices.
“Consumer and rugged device manufacturers are learning from each other and the categories certainly are converging,” he argues.
Consumer devices are becoming thinner, lighter and faster and industry is now demanding a more consumer-like experience with the aim of achieving better communication and productivity in the field.“Consumer devices are becoming thinner, lighter and faster and industry is now demanding a more consumer-like experience with the aim of achieving better communication and productivity in the field.”
However, he to feels that when it comes to professional use in the field rugged manufacturers still provide the better solutions.
“While everyday consumers would undoubtedly benefit from their devices being waterproof, off the shelf consumer devices would not survive the rigours of an eight hour plus shift for a three year period for field service professionals,” he comments.
“We’re seeing rapid innovation from rugged manufacturers where they’re focused on reducing size, weight (through the use of composite materials, for example) and power consumption, all while retaining rugged characteristics.”
“Rugged devices used by field workers not only have to withstand drops, shocks, vibrations, spillages and in some instances, chemicals, but they also need to provide data security and the power and battery life needed to ensure a reliable experience, allowing organizations who have digitized their processes to benefit from gains in efficiency and productivity.”
“Devices designed for mobile workers use batteries which are more powerful and can last eight to 10 hours. Connectivity is better with optimized antennas, so field service personnel can access and input data quicker, and more efficiently.
Touchscreen technology has dramatically improved, for example, Getac’s proprietary Lumibond® technology allows screens to be easily read in both very bright and dull environments, and used with finger, gloves and protective clothing, or stylus, even in the rain.”
Rugged accounts for 28% of enterprise device access, according to ‘CCS Insights IT Decision Maker Mobile Technology Survey, 2016’, and this number rises to 50% in industries such as construction, transportation and utilities.
These thoughts are also echoed by Robert Hurt, General Manager, EMEA with Janam.
Rugged on its own, is not enough in a real-world field service environment. True ruggedness is not just about IP ratings or rigorous testing “Rugged on its own, is not enough in a real-world field service environment. True ruggedness is not just about IP ratings or rigorous testing to ensure it can withstand frequent drops, tumbles and shocks across a wide temperature range. Rugged mobile computers offer features that enable the device to optimally perform well beyond the life expectancy of a consumer-grade device,” he adds.
“Features like reinforced displays to prevent breakages, large capacity and/or removable batteries and robust radios to provide secure and reliable connectivity and seamless roaming, have a positive impact on productivity and the bottom line.”
“If an organization requires data capture, a consumer device will not provide true barcode scanning technology. While a smartphone camera can scan a barcode, it doesn’t provide the same performance you receive from a scan engine, and certainly will disappoint when it comes to reading damaged or poorly printed barcodes.”
“Rugged smartphones have a short lifecycle and are not designed to last several years in a business environment. Purpose-built rugged mobile computers offer longer-term investment protection, backed-up by multi-year service plans to get you back up and running quickly if a unit does get damaged. At the end of the day, a rugged smartphone cannot replace a rugged mobile computer that was specially designed to run line-of-business applications in the enterprise.”
The point around device life expectancy is, of course, a valid one, especially when we consider the mission-critical importance of field service operations. However, with the price of consumer units, especially from regions like China, becoming so much lower than a rugged device – could a case be made for adopting an approach whereby organizations simply stock up on additional cheaper units as back up rather than fewer more reliable, but more expensive rugged units?
“First off, a “rugged” tablet that is far less expensive that its competition is most likely far less rugged,” comments Kost.
“Consider the resources it will require to replace knock-off “consumer rugged” devices when they fail (and they will) along with the downtime losses that will occur while that worker is offline. This isn’t just about the sticker price of the replacement device, either. You have to factor the cost of labour required to re-order, re-configure, re-secure and redeploy the new device, all while your field worker is “down” and customers aren’t serviced.”
“Multiply that by 100 or 10,000 employees and you’ll see how hard it is to justify the few hundred dollars you may save per device up front on a “cheaper” device. Then factor the costs related to deploying the right workflow software, compatible accessories, and ultimately the security and maintenance of the entire mobility/IT solution for 3-5 years.”
It’s risky to do an upfront cost comparison for consumer and rugged mobile devices; rather businesses need to take a long-term view of total cost of ownership for a deviceWhite also concurs with this premise.
“It’s risky to do an upfront cost comparison for consumer and rugged mobile devices; rather businesses need to take a long-term view of total cost of ownership for a device,” he says.
“Despite generally being cheaper at the offset, consumer devices will quickly fail in environments outside of the office, which not only leads to higher replacement and service costs, but also to inefficiencies, disruptions in productivity, penalties from missed service level agreements but most importantly end-user frustration and loss of confidence in systems and process. While consumer devices tend to have a usable life of around 18 to 24 months, in testing field environments, this could be as short as a few weeks.”
“Rugged devices are built to last. For example, Getac devices are built from the ground up and components are assured for up to five years. In the unlikely event of damage, it offers a ‘bumper-to-bumper’ accidental damage warranty free of charge.”
“VDC recently reported that consumer devices are 3x more likely to fail within the first year,” adds Hurt.
“We’ve worked with many customers that initially deployed consumer-grade devices. After 6-12 months they came to us because the devices couldn’t survive – and the downtime and repair costs of the consumer device quickly ate up the initial savings associated with deploying a smartphone. Not only did these customers experience crippling downtime, but they couldn’t get the same level of service and support that comes with purchasing and deploying a rugged mobile computer.”
“Cheaper devices don’t offer all the features and functionality enterprises require, nor do consumer manufacturers offer the same range of optional accessories workers need to support various applications,” he adds.
You may pay a bit more in the short term for a purpose-built device, but you save in the long term when you take into consideration the costs associated with device downtime and frequent replacement costs“You may pay a bit more in the short term for a purpose-built device, but you save in the long term when you take into consideration the costs associated with device downtime and frequent replacement costs when the consumer device simply can’t survive the rigours of the enterprise.”
With this in mind, it would appear that whilst having hardware that is fit-for-purpose is an important factor in why field service organizations continue to turn to rugged manufacturers, the true value in working with an enterprise level hardware provider is as much about their understanding of your workflows and needs as it is about their hardware.
“Many technology resellers and OEMs are simply going to deliver a package to your door and walk away, leaving you to figure out the “solution”. That’s why you must partner with a true enterprise-level mobile solution provider that understands the specialized needs of your industry and business and knows how to overcome common pain points,” Kost comments.
“They can expertly identify which mobile components are compatible with your current IT environment. And, they are best-equipped to integrate the entire mobility solution in a way that bridges legacy and future systems without disrupting workers and workflows. For example, at Xplore, we think beyond the platform to ensure every component of our rugged mobility solutions – from the core of the rugged computer to the mounting hardware, connectivity, security, software and accessories – is compatible with customers’ other tech systems and complementary to workers’ existing business processes and the physical work environment.”
It is this ability to understand workflows that White believes is the key differentiator between consumer and specialist providers also.
“Rugged manufactures can add value by having a deep understanding of specific industry workflows practices and process. It’s also important for them to work closely with customers to understand individual requirements so devices can be customized accordingly,” he comments.
Hurt is also on the same page here as well. “Companies like Janam work closely with a broad range of customers, resellers and ISVs and understand the requirements to support workflows across industries. We specially design our devices to survive all day, everyday use in tough environments. We work closely with our customers to deliver a device that meets the specific needs of their organization, as we understand that the consumer “one size fits all” model doesn’t work for companies running demanding line-of-business applications.”
However, making the decision to opt for rugged devices over consumer is only the first step in identifying the devices right for your field engineers. The rugged sector, though niche, remains highly competitive. So what should a company look for in a rugged hardware provider?
“You need to choose a solution provider that not only has the technology, but the resources, agility and know-how to quickly solve your complex business problems,” explains Kost.
You need to choose a solution provider that not only has the technology, but the resources, agility and know-how to quickly solve your complex business problems“You should never feel as though the hardware provider is trying to shoehorn in a device, and be wary of those that push ‘one-size-fits-all’ mobile computers or mobility bundles. Also, confirm platform expandability. Ensure the device can support OS, storage and memory upgrades. This provides operational flexibility and extends the life of the current software, security, and back-office systems, lowering the cost of IT training/support.”
“Businesses should consider a number of factors when choosing a hardware provider to work with,” comments White.
“Sector knowledge and experience with the ecosystem associated with the device are key as is the ability to customize and tailor devices. Warranties and after sales care are also extremely important,” he explains.
“It’s also important to find a hardware provider that is interested in a long-term partnership – not a quick sale,” Hurt adds. “We find customers want to work with someone that picks up the phone and is there to help resolve issues in real-time. Downtime equals frustration and loss of revenue – so look for a supplier who will be on hand, with local service, for the quickest turnaround.”
“Lastly, look for a hardware provider that works exclusively with best-of-breed partners that share a commitment to integrity, flexibility and responsiveness, especially when so many providers have lost sight of these vital attributes,” he concludes.
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