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For Rugged Tablets, It’s All About Access (to GIS Data)

Geospatial information system (GIS) technologies are not new. Neither are rugged tablet computer technologies. Both ideas were born out of the need for access to data not easily documented or digestible on paper. Both have gained increasing relevance across almost every global industry over the last 20 years: Rugged tablets’ role in workflow mobility has expanded beyond simple data acquisition, and GIS applications have made great strides in centralizing disparate map collections and simplifying complex data analysis. As each has evolved in response to a rapidly changing technology landscape and emerging business demands, one thing has remained fundamentally consistent: The way that rugged tablets and GIS data work cohesively to acquire and analyze actionable data.

GIS data is no longer relevant only to a small segment of engineers, field service workers or road warriors. Together, GIS software and rugged tablet technologies drive more informed decision-making for all global industries by granting unrestricted access to critical data from anywhere using a single mobile PC device.

But GIS software is running on consumer-grade devices today, you say . Can’t I just use any mobile PC for GIS? Why should I spend more upfront on a rugged tablet when I don’t seem to need it right now?

Before I answer that question, consider this:

Xplore Rugged Tablets for GIS Data Applications

GIS – in its best form – can “relate otherwise unrelated information” and give meaning to key authoritative map data. GIS solutions define geographic jurisdictions and solve spatial problems. They enrich business planning beyond basic engineering or logistical modeling. They enable more proactive asset management. They protect our businesses and our communities. GIS data is germane to the visualization of disease spread, execution of tactical responses, expansion of utility infrastructure, and proper utilization of land and natural resources. It is crucial to the elimination of “guesswork.” But rugged tablets are just as essential, for some of these reasons:

  • Task-specific applications are embedding GIS functionality in them. These applications are used by field service personnel who, by virtue of their job descriptions, are required to work in all types of weather and possibly Hazardous Locations. Non-rugged mobile computers aren’t built to the proper military-grade and intrinsic safety standards for operation in these environments. Most rugged tabletsare . Even if a consumer-grade tablet has an Intel Core-series processor and the right graphics components for GIS applications, it can be rendered useless the minute it starts raining, the second it’s dropped, or when dust or fluid contaminants make contact. And without an ATEX/C1D2/C1Z2 compliance rating (not commonly found with off-the-shelf PCs), a laptop/notebook, handheld PC, or tablet is dangerous to use around explosive environments. Therefore, without a rugged tablet, your GIS data could be rendered inaccessible when and where it’s needed most.

  • The goal of building a truly mobile application is to provide a method of collecting, verifying and providing information at the point of service. In order to complete those actions, some applications may require the user to connect peripheral equipment to an I/O port for diagnostics or quality testing, for example. This means thatthe mobile device must be much more than just a simple tablet. Most consumer or commercial grade tablets no longer offer True Serial Port or RJ45 I/O connectivity – both of which utilities require and fortunately, rugged tablets still provide as a standard feature.

In short, rugged tablets provide the data access, analysis, continuity, and solution scalability necessary for new – and more meaningful – application of GIS data. Most other mobile computers – rugged or non-rugged – aren’t equipped to support GIS completely or long-term.

As a recent IDC Energy Insights report noted, “utilities are renewing their interest in geographic information systems (GIS) software as a means to leverage geographic information for business execution rather than just asset design.” This can be attributed to the progressive synchronization of rugged tablet computers with GIS software and the unrestricted data access that this powerful combo can provide to all users at any scale.

Project planning requires accurate data. Engineering requires precision data. Logistics management requires real-time data. And today’s organizations – regardless of industry or size – expect nothing less than complete visibility into the data essential to designing profitable product and service models. Not all mobile computers can meet those terms without compromise. Most can’t take the data curated by people from all walks of life and make it meaningful – and accessible – to those who have to walk and work. Rugged tablets can – and have done so continuously for the last 20 years.

Most mobile PC manufacturers haven’t invested in years of collaboration with Esri or Bentley Systems to ensure compliance with GIS standards and compatibility with GIS software and applications across multiple operating systems (OS). Many rugged tablet manufacturers have – mainly because their technologies are built specifically to serve utilities, and they understand that GIS applications require hardware and software to sync up in order for any solution to work proficiently.

So, to answer the question above, no. You can’t just use any mobile computer for GIS – if you want to actually gain new business advantages from the GIS data.

I’ll show you the specific reasons why rugged tablets are the only suitable mobile computer option for GIS next week at the  Esri User Conference… if you stop by booth #2324.
(And I’ll explain in my blog post next week for those of you not heading to the show). 

In the meantime, download your industry’s “Mobile Computing Feature Checklist” to see if your current mobile computer meets all the criteria it should to provide uncompromising GIS

Government Feature Checklist

Oil & Gas Feature Checklist

Transportation Feature Checklist

Public Safety Feature Checklist

And find out if Rugged Tablets Really Cost More than Any Other Mobile PC in the upcoming Field Technologies Online Webinar.

Register for the Webinar