What a Consumer-Grade Mobility Strategy Really Costs Enterprises with a Field-Based Workforce

Technology has done wonders for business in the last 20-plus years, especially mobile technology. Tablet, laptop and even handheld computers have completely transformed the notion of field service and, therefore, customer service. Customer questions can be answered and problems can be solved by technicians in a matter of minutes – not days, weeks or months. Ideas from the best, brightest and most skilled workers can be applied, even if they are hundreds of miles away from the actual job site. Records-keeping is no longer a burden. Information retrieval is instant. Risk mitigation strategies are easier to implement than ever, as are proactive maintenance techniques that minimize equipment repair demands and – most importantly – eliminate downtime. The list of mobile technology benefits goes on and on. Just look at the widespread impact that rugged tablets have had on manufacturing, warehousing, field service, public safety, and utility industry leaders around the world in the last few years:

Indeed, mobile technology is a game changer for companies looking to employ better, smarter, more efficient business processes. When it works. Truth be told, mobile technologies fail more often than many technology manufacturers (and their customers) will admit. Especially consumer-grade devices that, while marketed for business applications, were never designed for such use cases or environments. (That is why you should always ask your sales rep these tough questions.) 

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At the same time, it can be easy to overestimate the performance capabilities of a well-known mobile computer brand or miscalculate the data security – or worker safety – risks posed by certain mobile devices, such as many “cost efficient” consumer grade tablets, laptops and handheld computers. This is especially true when budgets are tight and sticker prices are just right. No executive is going to fault decision makers who choose to favor a “low cost” consumer-grade mobility solution that seems to check all the boxes. Until the solution fails to meet performance, security and/or safety expectations. Then the total cost of ownership (TCO) skyrockets and those “savings” turn into losses very quickly.

Just look at the image on page 10 of this Mobility Buying Guide to understand the potential impact that one device “failure” could have on your bottom line

Mobility is no longer a luxury for organizations that want to be responsive to market shifts and mitigate issues that could impact customer satisfaction and, therefore, revenue. The financial implications of even a single failing mobile device far surpass any benefit you may receive from securing a lower sticker price or forgoing the extended warranty option. Just ask these two multi-billion-dollar companies:


Don't get caught without a battery back-up

This multi-national organization is known for its customer service excellence. It consistently ranks at the top of consumer surveys and has prioritized workforce mobility over the past decade. As a technology innovator, this company decided to leverage the advantages of Android mobility within many installation and maintenance divisions and opted to deploy Motorola Droid Xyboard tablets to 13,000 of its field-based workers – even though they expected and planned for a 14% device failure rate at the time of purchase. Unfortunately, the actual failure rate was 25% in the second year, and between 35-50% for most divisions in the third year. Clearly, the 1820 spare Xyboard units they budgeted for were not enough to replace the actual number of devices that went offline. And, the average $50 cost to repair each fixable device was just the beginning of the total costs (i.e. losses) incurred while the tablets and, therefore, workers were offline. Technicians were unable to provide full-service support to customers in a timely manner, logistics became challenging to manage, and workers at this forward-looking company had to revert to paper-based business processes of the past until devices were replaced or repaired. The company quickly started replacing these devices with rugged Android tablets that have proven far more reliable over a much longer period of time.


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This globally-known brand has hundreds of thousands of mobile workers deployed in the field every day for the installation and management of its infrastructure and services. They understand the need for rugged mobile computers and have invested in them heavily over the last decade. However, pressure to accommodate the technology expectations of a younger workforce led this organization to purchase 80,000 iPhones and 100,000 iPads along with cases they hoped would replicate the level of protection offered by inherently rugged mobile computers. In 2017, 22,000 of their 180,000 installed Apple mobile devices failed. In just one year, 12% of their workforce was taken offline for some period of time. Unable to operate at peak performance, field technicians were forced to improvise as best as possible to fulfill their daily obligations, and large volumes of customers ultimately suffered due to the service delays or limited service capabilities that occurred during the devices’ downtime. This company, too, decided that it was too disruptive to utilize a “disruptive” mobility model and quickly standardized multiple divisions on rugged tablet computers (for a much lower TCO).

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Success Is Built on Failure

As you can imagine, both companies were forced to re-evaluate the tangible vs intangible costs of mobility, as well as the value they put on the uptime of their workers long-term versus the “value” of a lower sticker price right now. Their initial justification to use a non-rugged, off-the-shelf tablet versus a truly rugged, enterprise-grade mobile computer was quickly invalidated. It became clear that the perceived savings and simplicity of consumer-grade devices were misperceptions. Devices originally targeted to a consumer audience are designed to support very different applications than those used in professional environments. That is why so many executives are struggling to increase investments in mobile technologies and why so many mobility projects are stalling (maybe even yours). They hear stories about how their peers spent millions on mobility hoping it would give them a competitive advantage, only to suffer a number of setbacks – like the two stories above and the all-too-common situations revealed in this blog post.

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The good news is that your organization can apply the valuable lessons learned by your peers and competitors to mitigate risk during your own mobile tech buying journey. Their missteps can empower you to make better decisions; to recognize which mobile computer options may actually be viable for your use case and which ones should be avoided at all costs. 

For example, case study after case study demonstrates that rugged tablets, 2-in-1 laptops or handheld devices are the only viable option for those trying to equip workers in industrial or field-based environments with reliable mobile computers. Even realtors, insurance adjustors, and government workers who find themselves out of the office for extended periods of time are quickly becoming rugged mobile computer advocates.

Even better news, it is possible to deploy a best-in-class mobility solution – one that meets your performance, durability, security and safety standards – without breaking the bank. You just need a trusted advisor to help you sift through the hundreds of devices (and overwhelming number of feature/configuration options) on the market today and ultimately balance your cost and performance expectations. Start here to find a mobility solution provider that knows your industry, your business and, most importantly, the actual TCO for every tablet, laptop, 2-in-1 or handheld computer you may be considering.

Trying to decide which mobile device is best for your budget, business application and/or revenue growth goals?
This step-by-step guide will walk you through every question to ask, every technology performance consideration, and every mistake that you can avoid (thanks to the lessons learned from other companies).

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