Companies throughout industry are increasingly using mobile devices. But they need to look out when choosing them, or they may be in for a nasty surprise. A third-party article by Alexander Honigmann, Sales Director Industry and Logistics Germany, ZEBRA TECHNOLOGIES.

In Europe, more and more companies are deciding to abandon pencil and paper and to equip their staff with mobile computers. However, not all decision-makers take the necessary care when choosing the technology, preferring to enjoy the benefits of mobility as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this can mean that they never actually reap the benefit or that their investments do not pay off.

Some companies have provided their sales representatives, for example, with standard smartphones instead of professional devices for industrial use. Why? The costs of buying consumer devices are lower. However, the problem with this is: The overall running costs are significantly higher – and smartphones are quite simply not designed for use in demanding operating environments.

Overall, the managers responsible should consider one or two important points before making their final decision. In the following, I have put together ten criteria as a guideline for buying mobile devices in companies.

1. Type of use and operating environment

Mobile devices that are used in demanding industrial environments such as warehouses or production halls need to be extremely tough and resilient. Being dropped time and again, liquids, extreme temperatures – and massive temperature fluctuations – plus dust or dirt must not be allowed to affect their function. To prevent the spread of bacteria and withstand cleaning with chemical disinfectants, devices used in hospitals must be made from germ-resistant materials.

In addition, companies must take into account how their staff will use the mobile devices and foresee the challenges associated with this. If an employee wears gloves all the time, for example, or needs both hands to carry heavy or bulky objects, voice-controlled applications are helpful. In a clinic, it is a good idea if mobile devices emit signals quietly and unobtrusively in order not to disturb patients – especially at night.

2. Data capturing

Barcodes are everywhere today: They allow us to keep track of and locate important items. Companies should therefore find out how frequently their mobile devices are used as scanners and what demands are made on the scanner. If a device, for example, needs to read a large number of barcodes or RFID tags every day, speed and precision are the most important factors.

In addition, decision-makers should also think carefully about whether their new devices need to have the capacity to capture 2D barcodes and signatures, a camera to document damage and automated document capture, or a card reader for payments. Long-term planning is sensible here, since a good device will be a future-proof solution.

3. Battery performance

The working life of the battery in a mobile device has a direct influence on efficiency in operation. If a device us used, for example, by various users across a number of shifts, the battery has to work perfectly for many hours. External sales staff are also on the road for a long time, often unable to recharge their devices. A powerful or easy-to-change battery keeps downtimes to a minimum here – and standard commercial smartphones generally do not offer either of these.

4. Training time and user friendliness

Companies must also consider the different basic requirements of their employees and weigh up how long it will be before they can use the new devices efficiently. This is particularly important in industries with a high proportion of seasonal workers. An ergonomical shape and an intuitive operating system allow employees to work productively more quickly. Because Android smartphones dominate the market for consumer devices, users have assimilated their functions and quickly find their way around similarly designed professional devices. This makes them easier to operate and shortens training time.

5. Security requirements 

Companies should also factor in the risks and consequences of a potential security violation through the use of mobile solutions. They need to take various factors into consideration when choosing: The choice and configuration of a suitable mobile device management (MDM) system, defining and implementing guidelines, training the users and the back-up options for the relevant devices.

6. Handling, monitoring and support

The introduction of new devices should always reduce the workload for the IT Department. However, if companies then go without an MDM application, employees must either seek support for themselves if problems arise – specifically, if they use their private mobile devices for business purposes – or they must manage with the Help Desk. The IT staff then have to deal with an almost infinite number of models. Central management of the device fleet by remote administration, from upgrades to fault diagnosis, is therefore essential in making work easier in many situations.

7. Maintenance and repair

Anyone who operates a fleet of devices must be prepared for accidents. This includes a fast repair service, replacement devices with pre-installed software and extensive, uncomplicated insurance cover. Companies must first assess the probability of device failures, then evaluate the effects of such failures on operation and customer service and finally select a service plan that covers these risks.

8. Lifecycle Management 

If a company regularly replaces broken devices or decides to buy new device models at frequent intervals, the device fleet covers various generations. This in turn considerably increases both the complexity of support and also the investment costs. Accessories and chargers for newer models may not be reverse-compatible and require extra purchases, which lowers the value of the previous investments – the same applies for business applications that have to be tested for new devices and operating systems. When investing, companies should therefore make sure that the new devices are guaranteed to have a long working life by ensuring that they are tough and through maintenance contracts.

9. Overall running costs

Despite the lower purchase costs, smartphones can be considerably more expensive for companies to run than professional mobile devices. The reasons are: the costs of additional accessories, rapid obsolescence and potential downtimes. If companies use smartphones for industry-specific applications such as the scanning of barcodes or the processing of payment transactions, the expansion of the phone’s functions will cause considerable extra costs – as will the additional protection against damage from being dropped. Experts agree that smartphones increase overall operating costs by up to 50% in comparison with tough professional devices.

If the potential costs from downtimes, shorter working lives, additional accessories and the necessary support for successful implementation are taken into account, the actual scale of the investment becomes clear. Supplying employees with mobile solutions costs far more than just the device purchase price.

10. Continuity of devices

On average, most smartphones become obsolete after around 18 to 24 months – which means that the accessories are also out-of-date too. In comparison, professional devices have a far longer working life of five years or more.

In addition, the security support for smartphone operating systems ends after 36 months, whilst most companies expect five years’ service from their supplier. If a device is running an old operating system for which no more security patches are offered, it is vulnerable to unforeseeable security risks. 

Special services for professional Android devices include up-to-date security patches beyond the 36 months, and thus extend the working life and reduce overall running costs in the long term. The mobile devices used can be protected overall for a period of around seven years – which reduces the burden on the IT infrastructure in every area.

The right device for the right job

To summarise: If companies equip their staff with mobile technology without thinking it through, it will not necessarily lead to increased productivity and efficiency and better customer service. Each company must select a device that meets its operating requirements precisely – only then will the investment really pay off.