5 Reasons to Choose Rugged over Consumer

By Kelly Harris, Business Development Manager, Barcoding, Inc. — August 27, 2012

Without a doubt, the iPhone is a great tool for checking emails, keeping up with calendars and even catching up with friends on Facebook.  However, it is safe to say that a consumer has completely different device and interface needs and expectations than a truck driver or warehouse employee.

Consumer devices are just that — designed for consumers.  They have to be sexy and sleek with the latest bells and whistles to thwart the competition and capture the attention of a finicky population that is constantly seeking the latest and greatest. 

Enterprise Needs
When looking at a mobile technology investment for the enterprise, the needs are different. Technology is purchased to be implemented long term and to provide employees with a tool to help them do their jobs more efficiently. Additional benefits may be to provide management visibility and eliminate costly errors and duplicate entries; however, none of these intended improvements will be realized if the implemented technology does not stay out in the field.

Which leads to the question:  Why rugged over consumer?

1. Platform/Lifecycle
Windows is still the king in the rugged mobile arena. However, the smart phone market (currently composed mostly of iOS, Android and Blackberry) demands seemingly instantaneous changes and upgrades. No sooner is a device released than the replacement is in full production.

How will the latest OS software updates and device availability impact apps? Will the platform an enterprise has designed for its application be available throughout its intended rollout schedule? If replacement devices are needed (as they often are with consumer devices), is it possible to acquire new devices with the same build?  How will a mixed deployment and/or updates to devices already in the field be managed?

2. Ease of use
The device an enterprise chooses should be easy to use — and while this sounds simple enough — it applies to more than just the end user of the technology.  It is important to consider all of the stakeholders and teams in the enterprise that will need to work with this device throughout its lifecycle.  This includes the initial deployment, ongoing support and helpdesk, along with security and compliance teams.

That said, the end user experience is not to be discounted. Special attention should be paid to the specific needs of the end user’s job function. These devices should be a help rather than a hindrance and enable the business to run more efficiently.  For instance, if an employee is required to scan many individual packages for a delivery or wear gloves, he or she should not be using a device that relies on a camera and software to focus on and decode barcodes, or a touch screen-only keypad to enter data.  Otherwise, greater inefficiency may be the outcome.

3. Total Cost of Ownership
While the consumer device may seem like the cheaper option, focusing solely on acquisition costs is short sighted and will often prove to be more costly in the long run. It is important to consider the total cost of ownership — which includes all direct and indirect costs associated with the purchase of an asset over its entire lifecycle.

The lifespan of a consumer device is typically less than one year, while rugged devices routinely last greater than four.  Consumer devices also experience higher failure rates even in the calmest of environments.  According to VDC Research mobile workers lose an average of 75 minutes each time their mobile devices fail. Failure could require simple reboot or an all-out hardware failure that warrants replacement or service. 

Because of their longevity, rugged mobile devices should be considered an IT asset like laptops, servers, and office telecom hardware. There are hardware maintenance agreements available, or the manufacturer will offer time and materials repair on these devices for at least five years after the initial release. These devices may be purchased or leased, providing flexibility on either capital or operating budgets. Leasing is not an option with a consumer smart phone, which has low or no residual value after the first six months. This might not be a consideration in the initial deployment, which could be easily factored in as an operation expense, but becomes a different animal when considering the elevated costs of replacement consumer devices.

When comparing costs, it is also important to calculate the loss of productivity from hardware failure. By ensuring that users are empowered with the right tools for the job, a business can maximize ROI by minimizing TCO.

4. Independence from Carrier Contracts
Obviously, the iPhone or the latest Android device does not actually cost $99 or whatever the deal of the day is. The price paid for a consumer device from a wireless carrier is highly subsidized by that carrier. This is a standard business practice industry-wide that is used to entice new customers and to promote loyalty and renewal contracts with existing customers.

Sounds like a win-win, right?  Not quite — the replacement cost of the device, should it break, will not be subsidized and could be more than $650. Plus, the user is likely to pay more for voice and data plans because the carrier is looking to recoup its costs over the contract.  Also, a change in carrier over the course of the project means a “rip and replace” of all devices.

Dual band radios that can handle both GSM/GPRS/UMTS and CDMA EVDO are quickly becoming the standard amongst rugged mobile devices, thereby, providing support for all wireless carriers (Tier1) with one device. In the current consumer model, devices are purchased through a cellular carrier of choice, “locking” the buyer in on the locked phone. Since most enterprise deployments are designed to be in the field for three to five years, the mobile devices selected now, must be stuck with for the life of the deployment.

With choice comes power. By separating the two, device acquisition and plan/carrier selection, an enterprise is able to negotiate more aggressive pricing on both items initially, as well as have more flexibility with the carrier throughout the life of the project.

5. Rugged = All-in-one Solution
Many enterprise applications require additional input and data collection abilities, like signature capture, a tactile keyboard, barcode scanner, and the ability to capture payment in the field (credit cards). Rather than a consumer device with a wardrobe of accessories that can be lost, damaged, or fail, rugged mobile devices can offer an all-in-one solution that is seamless to the user.

Mobile devices have to support multiple functions. That means communication to multiple networks and devices above and beyond the cellular connection, such as GPS, Bluetooth headsets and mobile printers. All of these functions consume power, especially when running simultaneously – so battery life and power management are features that are critical components of a device’s design. Rugged mobile devices have been designed for use in the field and support of a minimum of an eight-hour shift, while some now boast more than 12 hours.

In addition to data entry features and battery life, the appropriate peripherals and accessories can make or break a deployment.  Do employees go back to a home office or a depot at the end of the day? If they are headed back to the depot, it is imperative that multi-slot cradles and battery chargers are available to service the entire batch of equipment, whether for charging overnight or swapping out batteries between shifts. These types of accessories are simply not available for consumer devices.

Choosing Rugged
The choice of mobile device is critical to a business, and not just during the first six months of use. While sleek, exciting, and seemingly “cheap,” consumer devices are not built to withstand the demands of a business. Enterprises must carefully consider long-term TCO when planning a mobile rollout, and make sure to understand every user and system that will be affected during the implementation. The implementation does not have to be done alone. Systems integrators are available to help enterprises navigate this territory and can provide valuable guidance in hardware selection, software applications, maintenance plans and carrier options.

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