Mobile Computing for Today’s Enterprise

Mobile computing continues to gain momentum as mobile Web, connectivity and technology advance, mature and decrease in cost. Mobility has never been more available, more ubiquitous or more powerful for consumers and companies.
The late 2009 launch of the Apple iPad re-introduced consumers to the techno-wonders of tablet PCs—a mobile computer that’s sleek, small, thin, and packed with features and functions, including a touch screen that deems the keyboard virtually obsolete.
This buzz continues to fuel interest, even in the business sector, since rugged tablet PCs are no strangers to hard work and harsh environments. So, what’s the key to the successful mobile enterprise, and how can tablet PCs advance a company’s pursuit toward productivity and profitability while ensuring a positive end-user experience? And can the Tablet PC become the de facto device for a company’s mobile users?
Begin with an evaluation of your specific needs, operationally, financially and functionally— followed by a market search for Tablet PC providers that match your specifications. You will quickly find that there are a lot of providers to choose from, and that seeking qualified, quantitative information is time consuming.

The reality is that rugged computers aren’t new. In fact, even the rugged Tablet PC isn’t all that new. Companies, government agencies and the United States military have used these computers for decades. What are new, however, are tablet PCs with extraordinary power and performance, which are built to be smaller, stronger and more capable than ever. Today’s rugged tablet PCs are ultra-mobile, tough, customer-engineered computers designed for use in mission-critical applications.

“A Tablet PC is an ultra-mobile, tough, customer-engineered computer designed for use in mission-critical applications.” --MobileDemand

Choosing a Rugged Tablet PC

Here are the initial considerations to make when evaluating a rugged Tablet PC:

Go Rugged—Certifiably Rugged. What is “rugged”? A rugged Tablet PC is critical for tough, rough and harsh environments, indoors and out. Unless a Tablet PC is truly “rugged,” a VDC Research study indicates that total ownership costs will quickly skyrocket out of control. The study indicates that failure rates almost double when a commercial-grade Tablet PC is used, instead of a rugged Tablet PC. Specifically, these failure rates are 16.7 vs. 8.5 percent (source: VDC Research, page 29 for small form factor).
Another report shows that ruggedized devices are designed for durability, and as such, their average annual failure rates are 3.5 times lower than non-ruggedized models (11 percent compared to 38 percent).

To be truly rugged, a Tablet PC must adhere to some type of standard or certification. The bad news? There is neither a single industry standard, nor an independent testing authority, for rugged computing products. The good news is that there are some baseline standards developed by the U.S. military. For example, the MIL-STD-810G standards specify a variety of environmental tests that manufacturers can use to prove that their rugged computers, including tablet PCs, are truly rugged.

These standards focus on criteria such as humidity and harsh environments that may include sand, dust, ice, freezing rain, rain, fluids contamination, temperatures (high and low), vibration, pressure, shock, and even solar radiation.

Check Size & Weight. Today’s tablet PCs, rugged tablets included, are smaller and lighter than ever, yet do not compromise functionality, performance or even screen size. Mini rugged tablet PCs range in weight from 2.5 pounds to approximately 4.5 pounds, depending on the size and battery configuration. Some rugged tablet PCs have shrunk to be as small as 8.8 inches wide, 5.7 inches high and 1.55 inches deep. Larger rugged tablet PCs range in weight from 3.5 pounds to over 5 pounds, and are up to 12 inches wide.

Go Windows. Real Windows. There’s virtually nothing more important than a computer’s operating system and applications, and what can and can’t be installed, managed, updated, upgraded and used, every day, by mobile employees. Some tablet PCs operate using complete Microsoft® Windows® OS and applications, which streamline enterprise administration and management while giving end-users software that they know and use. End-users gain the productivity advantage of familiarity and comfort, while corporate IT teams avoid having to support yet another application or migration path using other operating systems—or even Windows Mobile and/or Windows CE.

Enterprise-class devices with Microsoft Windows also give enterprises the added benefit of a large, mature software development community. Gartner reports on the advantage of using Microsoft for mobility: “Gartner recommends that clients deploying applications on a ruggedized device primarily consider only Windows platforms to reduce project risk … Other options represent a high degree of risk for buyers because of the small number of vendors producing those products.”

Accessorize with Add-Ons or Choose Integration? Virtually any mobile device has “add on” capabilities. For retailers, the Tablet PC may require a bar code scanner, receipt printer, or maybe a swipe device for credit card transactions. Most of these add-ons are separate hardware components. The problem? The more add- ons, the more potential for problems like complete device failure and significantly reduced battery life. It’s common knowledge that failure rates for accessories and peripherals are higher than those of ruggedized mobile computers. Bolting on these peripherals increases the risk of downtime. For a large enterprise, managing tablet PCs and their numerous add-ons can be a logistical and inventory management mess.

Instead, there is a growing momentum for selecting tablet PCs that have been designed from the ground up, with integrated components and accessories that work together seamlessly. These tablet PCs often include built-in bar code and RFID scanners, numeric keypads, GPS, WWAN communications, and color cameras. Optional credit card readers, QWERTY keyboards and other mounts and accessories are also designed as integrated components of a single system.

The Rugged Tablet PC & Total Cost of Ownership

Proving a return on investment and having a proven model to validate the Total Cost of Ownership of mobile computing is vital. No company can invest in mobility and tablet PCs without a clear picture of costs, short-term and long-term. Yet, much of the TCO analysis misses the mark by not considering soft costs and variables that impact user productivity.

One study produced by Venture Development Corporation reports that nearly 50 percent of the total cost of using an enterprise mobile computing device is caused by lost worker productivity when the device fails. VDC also reports the average annual TCO of a ruggedized “large form-factor device,” which is a large tablet or notebook, is $2,814. The average annual TCO for a ruggedized “small form-factor device” such as a small tablet or handheld computer is $2,356. The report’s major conclusions state that TCO analysis must evaluate upfront costs, long-term costs and “soft” costs. Lost worker productivity is an example of a “soft” cost that has significant TCO repercussions.

On average, mobile workers lost 50 to 80 minutes of productivity when their mobile devices fail, reported VDC, who asserts that productivity loss represents as much as 41 percent of a mobile device’s TCO. Other “soft” costs include training and operational elements (see chart below).

The study shows significant TCO savings with rugged tablet PCs. Average annual TCO for a rugged device (large form, i.e., tablet PCs) is $2,814. The TCO for a non-rugged device is $6,598. That’s a 40.4 percent difference. In a 5-year period, the average is $14,071 to $34,788, rugged vs. non-rugged. That’s also a 40.4-percent difference in favor of rugged tablet PCs. The savings on small form factor devices is even greater.

Another incentive for tablet PCs is their ubiquitous capabilities as mobile devices for numerous industries, such as retail, food and beverage, field services and more. TCO advantages for standardizing hardware and software to one device are obvious. Inventory is easier to manage, repairs are systemized and centralized, and application development is streamlined.
Additional research shows:

Upfront cost of hardware adoption accounts for only 16 percent of mobile computer total cost of ownership (TCO). This means costs will be less, long-term, with rugged computers vs. non-rugged computers.

TCO falls for every level of ruggedness (consumer-grade, durable, semi-rugged and fully rugged), i.e., fully rugged devices cost the least to own, while consumer grade PDAs cost the most. The difference can be more than $1,600 per device, per year.

On average, the total cost of ownership for rugged computers over three years is 15- percent lower than that of non-rugged notebooks. This translates to savings of hundreds of dollars per unit.

Lost productivity is responsible for nearly half of the total cost of ownership for mobile devices, and a variety of other factors account for the other half. Some of the differences between ruggedized and non-ruggedized devices that have important TCO considerations include software and IT support issues, ease of use, power
management and administrative control.

IT support contributes 26.8 percent to TCO, which is the second-highest category. IT support is considered a soft cost. Soft costs for smart phones and non-ruggedized PDAs average $3,205, which is nearly double the $1,851 for ruggedized devices.

The average annual failure rate for non-ruggedized handheld computers is 38 percent, compared to just 11 percent for ruggedized models. Companies typically plan to keep mobile computers for enterprise operations in service for 3.5 years, but less than one in five non-ruggedized models will survive that long.

“Soft costs,” such as support time, lost productivity, and device maintenance account for a much higher percentage of TCO. Soft costs are not only much greater than hard costs, but they vary considerably by device type, accounting for about 65 percent of the total cost of ownership for fully rugged devices, to 87 percent for consumer- grade PDAs. Rugged mobile PCs can have longer warranty periods and longer replacement cycles versus commercial-grade notebooks.

Other Considerations
Of course, ultimate success with any mobile enterprise depends on more than just pricing and quality technology. The best decision—the best direction—is to find a vendor that is prepared to treat you as a customer and partner. This means you’re finding technical experts, implementation and training personnel—and key executives—that work with you beyond just the sales meetings. Ultimately, a great mobile enterprise requires a greater commitment between customer and vendor; a commitment to service, support, interaction, research and development and more. These extras go beyond warranties, service level agreements and contractual commitments. Mastering the mobile enterprise requires accountability, transparency and teams of people working together to achieve optimum results.