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Why More Companies are Reaching for Rugged Tablets, and Not Necessarily the Cloud

Everyone wants to be in the cloud these days, right? As CFO Innovation recently noted, Garner research indicates that “more than $1 trillion in IT spending will be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to the cloud during the next five years…” making “…cloud computing one of the most disruptive forces of IT spending since the early days of the digital age.”

There are several very valid reasons why CIOs in nearly every global industry will advocate for their companies’ shift to the cloud given the unprecedented size and strength of the global mobile workforce. Cloud-based solutions can lead to cost reductions, eliminate burdensome system maintenance, and even improve the security and reliability of communications. The utilization of mobile device management (MDM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms provide the flexibility to proactively adapt mobile tools as business processes and regulatory guidelines evolve. This flexibility comes without recalling devices, and therefore workers, from the field. And, cloud-based systems have proven to facilitate widespread collaboration which improves the quality of employees’ decisions and results in more effective and immediate action. Therefore, the cloud is seen as the ideal antithesis to the long-maintained, platform-based “functional” approach to business mobility.

But what happens when workers can’t connect to the cloud? How beneficial (or detrimental) will the cloud really be when they can’t load vital workflow applications and data because the surrounding buildings are too dense, the wireless signal is too weak (or non-existent in more rural and remote areas), or the area of operations is so sensitive that systems accessibility is only authorized via a highly secure Wi-Fi network or wired connection out of physical proximity to the job site?

Rugged Tablets In and Out of the Cloud

Wireless connectivity – even in the most reliable service areas – is never a guarantee, and maintaining a steady-state productivity level when forced to work “offline” for any reason is always a challenge. Sure, data can still be collected, cached and shared once a network connection is made. (Maybe. See below.) And, yes, organizations with a predominant field service model are going to be more prepared to accommodate daily data transmissions versus continuous real-time transmissions – thanks to the mobile technology limitations many learned to accept in the past with handhelds or laptops.

That being said…what happens when the entire workflow management system, hosted entirely in the cloud, is offline? Maybe your workers’ mobile devices aren’t compatible with the 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or satellite networks that are available. (And who really plugs in a smartphone via a wired connection to transmit data? Or who wants to, should I say? Do they even have the right I/O port?) And if the mobile PC’s antenna technology itself is unreliable…that’s a whole other issue that all too many companies have probably faced.

Perhaps that’s why most of the industry data we’ve seen and customer experiences we’ve heard indicate a new motivation to work outside the cloud. In fact, a recent Intel®-sponsored, Xplore-conducted survey found that:

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of mobile-centric companies worldwide are now reliant on platform-based and device-driven workflow management systems that allow for greater workflow continuity.

Of course, one could argue that this majority hasn’t been as aggressive in their transition to the cloud yet and remains reliant on legacy systems for fear of the “unknown” in a new cloud environment. But perhaps this group has just recognized that the utilization of a cloud-only mobile workflow system, while possibly advantageous for workers in close proximity to a network connection, could in fact hinder productivity among field-based personnel. Or maybe it’s just hard to prepare for, or justify, complete inaccessibility to entire workflow systems – or even a single app that defines personnel actions and facilitates “offline” data collection. But that’s why I think this second survey finding is more telling of how organizations are working to mitigate any challenges posed by both cloud and platform-based mobile workforce systems:

  • Rugged tablets remain the top choice in mobile computing devices among mobile professionals or companies responsible for a highly mobile workforce (64%). As noted in this white paper:Businesses of all sizes are beginning to understand that, to maximize the entirety of their technology investments…they have to strike the right balance between data accessibility and security; device mobility and rugged suitability; I/O, wired and wireless connectivity; and backwards and forwards compatibility with business systems and specialized applications.”

Data inaccessibility is inconvenient, but a complete disconnect between the mobile computing device and cloud-based workflow automation systems can be downright disruptive. And not just to the device’s owner, but to your entire organization, supply chain and – most critically – customers. That’s why I’m not advocating that you leverage only a platform-based, device-driven workflow management system. Nor am I saying that dependency solely on the cloud is going to automatically result in downtime. It can certainly make it easier to manage disparate and highly complex business systems.

I just want to encourage you to consider all the ways that your mobile device selection, as the foundational element of your mobility solution, will influence your ability to achieve any organization’s ultimate mobility goal: to keep workers and workflows moving no matter what. The only way to do that is to mobilize them with fully functioning computers that have the technological capacity to reliably facilitate both wired and wireless connections, as well as cloud-based and platform-based/device-driven workflow software, regardless of job location or type.

If you’re one of those fortunate institutes that can count on connectivity at all times – or that has apps that can function with and without the cloud – you need a mobile device that is highly compatible with the rest of your IT structure in order to create a sustainable and scalable mobility solution. And, if you’re part of the two-thirds of companies who choose not to use the cloud, you’ll still need a mobile device built for field service and/or enterprise environments.

In my professional opinion (after 25 years in the mobile industry), rugged tablets’ exclusively fit the bill for BOTH scenarios. I think that’s why the majority of mobile-centric organizations also deem rugged tablets their preferred mobile PC form factor, as evidenced by the survey feedback. Rugged tablets are system agnostic, highly flexible, and exclusively equipped with advanced technological capabilities – and highly sought-after feature combinations – that can’t be found in any other PC form factor, rugged or not. (And most certainly not in off-the-shelf tablet PCs.)

3 Reasons to choose rugged tablets

In fact, this new white paper is chockfull of insights – and interesting survey results – that anyone with a vested interest in workforce mobility should take a few minutes to read. It will explain why you should take extra care in your selection of your core mobility element – the mobile device – regardless of which path to workforce mobility is right for you. It also explains why more organizations than ever are reaching for rugged tablets – especially for those times when they want workers to successfully reach the cloud, and those times when it’s impossible to reach the cloud.

Feedback from the Field: Top 3 Reasons Why Rugged Tablets Are Still the Mobile PC of Choice in the Modern Mobile Workplace

P.S. The trend towards rugged tablets – and platform-based/device-driven workflow management software – is not exclusive to field-based workers, either. Read these discussions about the rising value of rugged tablets in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution environments:

Fog Computing Essential for Customizable Manufacturing Workflows

Industry 4.0: The Making of the Mobile Information Worker