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Why rugged mobile devices can be important in digital transformation

Highly durable mobile devices should not be only considered for especially challenging work environments - there are considerations for many businesses

Being able to click into digital transactions or access data is vital for almost all real-world business processes. To avoid any negative impact on productivity, this needs to be at the most appropriate time and place, hence the huge adoption of mobile and interactive screen display technologies such as digital signage.

People – employees, customers or business partners – can interact directly with all the systems they need to in “real-enough” time to gather information, make faster decisions or collaborate when it is required, and without delay.

Much of the technology that allows them to do this has readily proliferated from the consumer devices and systems that have transformed individual lives and the way information and services are consumed, at work, home or on the move.

Individuals are comfortable with their own technology choices and this led to the bring your own device (BYOD) concept becoming prevalent, and now generally accepted, in many workplaces.

Demanding environments

Comfort, convenience and acceptance of personal technology is positive, but many physical working environments can be much more demanding than the sofa, pocket or office.

Problems from faults or failures that are inconvenient at a personal or consumer level, could be financially problematic or seriously disruptive for wider business processes. This is only exacerbated as cycles shorten and results are expected faster.

Consumer devices are, however, becoming more “rugged”. There is better protection (at last) from dust or water, noticeable from higher ingress protection (IPxx) ratings often bandied about in advertisements using “splashy” outdoor lifestyles.

There are also improvements in case protection and glass toughness, which are sometimes tested with limited drop testing. Hopefully those carrying their own devices will also try to look after them and only drop them carefully.

But this is nothing like the scrutiny that fully rugged devices undergo. The rugged industry standard, MIL-STD 810G, is an 804-page document detailing dozens of different tests. Manufacturers choose which ones they want to assess their devices against to highlight their different strengths.

Outside of the military and highly challenging environments, fewer of these tests are perhaps necessary, but a degree of device ruggedness is important to the overall durability of business processes.

Read more about rugged devices

The remainder of the durable fit to the wider business need is however also critical. It may involve special mounts, warranties, replacement processes, strategies for peripheral attachment, upgrades or in-use storage or battery swapping. Achieving this requires a holistic approach to the durability of the entire business operation. It has to include the lifetime of the devices used, but also go beyond them.

This is where the rugged mobile device industry adds its important value, whether it is the category leaders such as Panasonic Business and Zebra, other long-established organisations like Getac and Honeywell, or smaller specialist players such as British rugged provider, Conker.

It is not only about making the devices tougher so that screens do not crack when dropped or mistreated, but also about having a durable, or as many suppliers would say, “business-rugged” approach to the entire project.

Consumer ruggedness

The alternative is to use consumer products and try to bridge the gaps or make do when things go awry. This may on the face of it seem a cheaper alternative, especially on a device-by-device basis. There is increasing investment in the ruggedness in consumer devices, especially with ingress protection, but is this enough in a business context?

An answer may still be that rugged devices last longer in challenging environments and so over, say, a five-year period, fewer business-rugged devices would be broken and replaced than consumer-rugged ones. That is relatively easy to measure and may be true, but the gap is closing and in reality, that is not where the true cost or value differences are found.

It is the cost of lost opportunity, loss of credibility or other business process disruption that matters more over time. This is much harder to quantify directly. Failure of a touchscreen-driven measurement system in an industrial process may only last an hour, but that might not only have direct costs, but a significant consequential effect on tight supply chains.

An inability to check visitors in a hospitality environment due to device failings may cause customer dissatisfaction and loss of precious loyalty. Changing a logistics workflow from digital to manual to cover for a fault may result in incorrect data entry and a propagation of errors.

Durable, smart technology

The costs are not as upfront as the difference in purchasing price between one mobile device and another, but the impact could be much more significant. This is where business-rugged sets itself apart from consumer-rugged. It is difficult to measure value in the short term of a device lifecycle, but it becomes much more important in the lifecycle of the business processes being digitally transformed.

Putting smart technology – mobile, touchscreen, interactive – into important business processes can be an effective and exciting way to digitally transform many of them for widely justifiable reasons. So why for the sake of saving a little up front, would any organisation want to risk disruption by not looking for a suitably durable and business-rugged solution?

Perhaps it would be better to take it seriously from the outset. Undertake a risk assessment process at the start – not to tick boxes or satisfy external requirements, but to identify the impact of different failure modes on business processes.

Work with suppliers that fully understand a durable strategy, and invest in technology that is fit for the purpose, not just to fit within a budget. If the digital transformation is justifiable, then surely it is possible to justify doing it right?

This was last published in February 2019

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