We get asked a lot of the time about justifying the cost of a rugged mobile computer over a non-rugged or a consumer-grade device. Obviously there are significant cost differences but it’s key to firstly understand the business environment in which the devices will be used. Peak-Ryzex technology experts Marc Begg and Aaron Benge consider some of the key considerations and explain the process we go through to match the right device for the business.

What sort of trends are you seeing with existing customers, with regards to consumer devices?

Marc: There used to be a very defined split between consumer and rugged devices and even within rugged devices themselves you had varying degrees of ruggedness. The top end of the rugged side won’t change – people that need a really tough device, because of their work environments – will still recognise the value of having a truly rugged device.

Aaron: The increasing popularity of consumer tablets is worth considering as well. Price is a key consideration, so is screen size and what you can do with this compared to a traditionally smaller screen. Consumer tablets have a bunch of applications and ways they can be used in house or out in the field with their larger screen size.

Traditionally, consumer devices are significantly less durable than rugged enterprise devices. Is this still the case or has there been more convergence?

Aaron: A lot more ‘consumer’ manufacturers are producing ‘in between’ products. Customers that need a device for an incredibly ruggedised environment will probably not look to these, but hybrids with low end IP ratings are being made.

Marc: Consumer manufacturers are starting to come out with more rugged features – IP ratings, waterproofing etc. They originally started targeting the adventure, outdoor market, but quickly realised this is the enterprise market at the same time. So yes, there certainly has been more convergence.

Can we see this from the other perspective, that of ruggedised manufacturers, who are also producing hybrid devices?

Marc: Rugged manufacturers are developing enterprise consumer style devices that look more attractive so more people are willing to take them up. The problem is that these devices aren’t consumer driven; they are driven by the manufacturers. The question remains if consumers will adopt these as their devices of choice, but they don’t offer the same feature set, don’t look as nice, and they are trying to make a rugged device look nice, rather than making a nice looking device work in a more rugged fashion.

Aaron: A lot of aftermarket products are also being produced, for example sleds which can slide over consumer devices. IP rated covers that can go over a normal consumer enterprise device that will survive if dropped or if they come into contact with water might suffice. This gives the customer options – they can buy a complex device or spend far less on a very good cover that will provide fairly good protection.

Supposing a team of field workers are not working in extreme conditions, would a consumer device be sufficient?

Marc: It’s important to look at the environment your workers are in – yes consumer devices with a cover might work in conditions where it is not noisy and users are not always working in direct sunlight. But if you put a cover over the top what happens with volume, access to different peripherals (e.g. headsets) etc. There may be times when a rugged device is more suitable because of volume, screen usability and durability requirements, for example.

Aaron: You need to spend some time with the users, a day in the life for example, so you can get to understand all their nuances – volume and battery life requirements for example. High usage might mean by 1pm a consumer device is flat but with a ruggedised device you might get a day of usage. We work closely with the customer to do a lot of exploration to ensure we are guiding them to the right device.

So users are driving device selection a lot more nowadays?

Marc: Well the percentage of people that have a mobile phone has increased exponentially over the past 15 years. So when you look to give your employees a device, by giving them something they already know how to use and operate, it allows productivity right from the start as they understand how to use it. So consumers are driving a lot of this change for that exact reason.

Security is a key concern in enterprise environments – are consumer devices less secure and if so what can be done to help overcome this?

Aaron: Not so much anymore, it has evened up so much more now – each consumer device has their own solution but over the top of that you’ve now got MDM that you can purchase easily, that gives you a layer of protection as well. Plus there are ways to dial in remotely, lock and wipe, basic diagnostics, add/remove applications etc. It’s more about asking what you need for security and you can generally get this on any device now via MDM.

Marc: As mentioned there are software application platforms that you can put onto these devices to lock them down and make sure your corporate data is secure. This needs to be part of your strategy and deployment, it’s not there intrinsically.

With such a fast-moving product development cycle, will enterprises that adopt consumer devices suffer from a lack of supply continuity and product support?

Aaron: It is a genuine concern; a lot of people have become used to rugged devices where you can purchase them for 5 years and get 3-5 years support after that. You might also be really unlucky as some consumer devices turn over as quick as 6-8 months and they won’t really support them much after that. This is something to consider if you want a consistent setup with users.

Marc: Which is why it’s important, whichever device you choose and how you choose it, to keep that in mind as part of your strategy and work with that. You shouldn’t be trying to keep these devices going for 5 or even 3 years and you need to be aware of that and have that as part of your strategy – the lifecycle of consumer devices and their length of life in your business is dramatically reduced in comparison to a rugged device.

Aaron: Think about your own device, if you’re careful with it you’ll probably get 18-24 months at best before things start failing or somewhere along the line you break something on it so you have to replace it. By that time it’s probably gone EOL (End of Life) from the manufacturer so you wouldn’t be able to replace with the exact same model. That could be a tipping point to keep some customers with rugged devices, their IT department needs to handle all of this or they will have to outsource to someone who can manage multiple devices.

Although consumer devices are usually cheaper in the first instance, something to consider would be the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – encompassing costs over the product lifecycle (e.g. repair, replacement etc). This argument might favour traditional, ruggedised devices but is it still the case?

Aaron: Again it depends on your work environment, if you’re going to break 3-4 consumer devices in 12 months it probably will cost you more than a ruggedised device. It’s important for us to spend time with the customer to work out exactly what they are going to be doing with their devices and work backwards from there.

Marc: You need to adapt your own TCO calculator to the business you are in, because anything directly from a consumer or rugged manufacturer will always be in favour of their type of device. There will be TCO calculators that state a rugged device will be the better option because you break 3 consumer devices in a year and over the course of 3-5 years it would be cheaper to buy a rugged device. But in the same scenario, you may only break one every 18 months so the lower outgoing costs might mean the consumer device is the cheaper option. You also need to consider the cost of the users using the application, ease of use, time it takes to complete specific tasks, time it takes to adapt to it etc. The physical device cost is a very tangible thing that people see, it’s some of the lesser known costs that don’t always get added into a TCO calculator and can often mean whether you achieve your TCO target or not.

Aaron: Also with tablets, you can start looking at the option of consolidating – for example some employees might have traditionally carried a laptop because they needed a larger screen and keyboard but for apps used a smartphone. You could blend the two together, and if they’re not making many phone calls (they could still make phone calls off the tablet using a Bluetooth headset), you could get rid of the laptop and the phone and have just one tablet device. Suddenly someone you’ve had to buy and support two units for you can get down to just one. However there are lots of other considerations, for example with maintenance contracts – you don’t really get an all-encompassing maintenance for consumer devices like you do with rugged devices. You have to start factoring into your TCO that consumer devices probably aren’t worth repairing unless it’s something fairly minor, compared to a ruggedised device which is usually worth fixing and is designed to be fixed. That’s what Peak-Ryzex is here to help customers with, to put all of these softer things that they don’t always think about into their strategy and work out what the TCO really is for that device.

Peak-Ryzex supports both rugged and consumer devices. If you’d like to schedule a free mobile device workshop at your offices get in touch via [email protected].