Rugged Mobile Devices in the Enterprise: Industry Specific Ruggedness Recommendations

Recently we’ve been discussing the effect of ruggedness on mobile devices used within the enterprise. To briefly catch you up, we’ve argued that innovations in mobile technology have made it possible for most peripheral hardware devices to be replaced by smartphone/tablet-based apps, and the trends are clearly moving in that direction. Today we’ll continue the conversation by investigating which levels of ruggedness levels are recommended for a variety of usage scenarios.

When talking about the impact of device ruggedness specific to certain verticals, such as the retail or manufacturing industry, we must ask a couple of basic questions. What impact will a device failure have on the usage scenarios within those industries? How much will this particular kind of device cost to fix or replace? Today we’re going to address the first of these questions, and next week we’ll explore how device ruggedness affects cost.

In 2009, Intermec, a provider of rugged mobile computers and handheld scanners, published a whitepaper (based on VDC research) which looked at the effects of durability on total cost of ownership (TCO). Besides being a great source of information regarding device TCO (our next topic in this blog series), this whitepaper also provides excellent insight into the ruggedness requirements of individual usage scenarios across verticals. In addition to this source,  a whitepaper published by Motorola in 2009 (based on VDC research) evaluates the effect of ruggedness on individual usage scenarios (See Figures 1-6). The whitepaper and figures you see below draw their data from the (paid) VDC Research Report “Total Cost Of Ownership Models for Mobile Computing And Communications Platforms”. VDC gathered data for this report by conducting primary and secondary research, the methodologies and a variety of tools.

Our discussion of mobile device ruggedness is based on the definitions of ruggedness as defined by this trusted VDC mobile hardware TCO study from 2007. It’s important to note when examining the “smartphone” data in Figures 1 through 6 that these devices represent non-ruggedized smartphone devices. Another important factor to consider is that the “rugged” column describes any rugged mobile device rated to at least MIL-STD-810G and IP54 standards. Consequently,  the “rugged” column also includes rugged smartphones or smartphones encased in rated protective casing.  Note that in all cases the use of rugged devices decreases failure rates by close to half or more.

It’s important to remember that mobile device ruggedization is just one strategy for capitalizing on the power of mobile devices in enterprise settings. Some enterprise environments may be better fitted for a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) strategy. For instance, in an environment where individual users frequently scan items (as in the case of package pickup and delivery), issuing rugged mobile devices to employees makes perfect sense, while in instances where many different employees occasionally scan an item (as in the case of document tracking), it could be advantageous to allow employees to access a company-developed app on their personal smartphone devices, which might protected using company-issued ruggedized cases.

Below we briefly summarize the effect of device failure on specific verticals and make recommendations for device ruggedness ratings based on this information:

Retail: The retail environment involves many enterprise usage scenarios including point-of-sale, sales force empowerment (aka clienteling), procurement and inventory management. For scenarios where a retail employee is dealing with a customer, as in the case of point-of-sale or checking on a product’s availability, a device failure would lower customer service and decrease the possibility of making a sale. In other back-of-the-house scenarios, like procurement and inventory management, a device failure could mean an employee has to take the time to go through a process manually which is typically automated. As you can see in Figure 1 (when compared to Figures 2-6), retail environments have one of the lower device failure rates. As with all the verticals, rugged devices in retail environments fail at almost half the rate of non-ruggedized devices. Because most of these environments are controlled and indoors, retailers can expect that their devices will be dropped from time to time, but they shouldn’t regularly encounter water or dirt. Based on this assessment we recommend that retailers use mobile devices or cases that are rated to MIL-810-G and preferably at least IP54 standards.

Figure 1 – Effect of Device Failure on the Retail Industry

Healthcare: Healthcare environments are heavily varied, and many include exposure to hazardous liquids or germs. In examining Figure 2 below, you can see that device failure rates in healthcare settings are incredibly high; in fact they are the highest amongst the verticals we’re considering. Ruggedizing these devices drops the rate of failure by over half. Since the environments where these devices are used are heavily varied, with some mobile devices being used for patient bedside care while others may be used in the pharmacy, healthcare professionals should consider selecting devices or cases that have antimicrobial coating, in addition to being rated to the highest level of durability. We recommend that smartphone/tablet cases or mobile devices for healthcare environments adhere to MIL-810-G and IP68 standards.

Figure 2 – Effect of Device Failure on the Healthcare Industry

Manufacturing: Many manufacturers already use rugged devices in warehouse environments because device failure can cause a whole mess of problems, including falling behind on orders and massive productivity losses. As we can see below in Figure 3, mobile devices in manufacturing environments fail at a rate much higher than that of retail, since the environments are less controlled and involve a higher chance of exposure to water or dirt. Because of the rough and varied nature of warehouses we recommend that manufacturers use mobile devices with the highest rating of durability. As a result, they should use smartphone/tablet cases or mobile devices that adhere to MIL-810-G and IP68 standards.

Figure 3 – Effect of Device Failure on the Manufacturing Industry

Field Service: A device failure in a logistics scenario such as field service can mean that a technician doesn’t have access to important electronically stored data he needs to complete the job, and will require that he manually record elements of the field service process that are typically automated. As we can see below in Figure 4, of all the verticals we’re examining, field service scenarios have one of the highest device failure rates. Because field service scenarios typically involve using mobile devices in a wide variety of indoor and outdoor environments, there is an increased likelihood of these devices being dropped and/or encountering water, dirt and dust. We recommend that businesses provide the highest level of durability possible for field service scenarios. Specifically, they should use smartphone/tablet cases or mobile devices that adhere to MIL-810-G and IP68 standards.

Figure 4 – Effect of Device Failure in Field Service

Logistics: The logistics industry involves the transportation of goods and situations such as package delivery and shipment. As you can see below in Figure 5, device failure rates are higher than that of the retail industry (see Figure 1), and ruggedness can reduce this failure rate by almost half. Another interesting consideration is that failure rates are still over 2% for rugged devices involved in transportation and logistics, suggesting that this environment is generally rough on devices. Because of the various environments and potential exposure to water, dirt and dust, we recommend that devices used for logistics and transportation purposes be rated at the highest level of durability. Specifically, they should use smartphone/tablet cases or mobile devices that adhere to MIL-810-G and IP68 standards.

Figure 5 – Effect of Device Failure in Logistics Scenarios

Government: Government organizations use rugged mobile devices in a variety of usage scenarios including everything from document tracking to military applications. As we can see from Figure 6, government devices have a notoriously high rate of failure. We can assume that many of the devices considered in this research were used in the field or in military settings, since it wouldn’t be logical (in light of the data for all the other verticals in Figures 1-5) for controlled indoor office environments to produce this level of device failure. Because of this, we recommend that smartphone/tablet cases or mobile devices meant to be used in controlled indoor environments adhere to MIL-810-G and preferably at least IP54 standards, while usage scenarios involving hazardous or outside use adhere to MIL-810-G and IP68 standards.

Figure 6 – Effect of Device Failure on Government Organizations

If you have any questions about how ruggedness ratings work and definitions of ruggedness be sure to check out our post from last week. Table 1 contains a consolidated view of our recommendations:

Table 1 – Vertical Specific Device Ruggedness Recommendations

As enterprise companies begin to consider replacing expensive durable mobile computers with smartphone alternatives, they need access to a software component ecosystem that effectively emulates pre-existing hardware like barcode scanners. At Scandit, we provide the technology necessary to add an enterprise-grade barcode scanner to any smartphone-based app running on iOS and Android (with Windows phone coming soon).

Stay tuned for our next post which looks at how total cost of ownership is affected by device ruggedness!