by: Patrick Seidensticker / Zebra
THOUGH IT MAY BE TEMPTING TO LET YOUR WORKERS USE CONSUMER-GRADE TABLETS, LAPTOPS OR 2-IN-1S IN THE FIELD, WAREHOUSE, STORE OR FACTORY, THERE IS MORE RISK THAN POTENTIAL REWARD IN DOING SO. THIS IS WHY.
As consumer demand increases and the needs of today’s businesses change, enterprises are finding their workers need more screens to get their jobs done accurately and efficiently – in part because they are on the move more than ever. Though handheld mobile computing devices have long been a staple for front-line workers, many companies now need to bring the value of a desktop computer out into the field to drive efficiency and enable better workforce communications among workers who need a bigger screen, more computing capacity, or “handwritten” data input capabilities to be productive.
When investing in new mobility solutions for these cases, it may be tempting to consider consumer-grade tablets, laptops or 2-in-1s because they are often right in front of us. In addition, both decision makers and end users are typically more familiar with these devices, seeming to promise a quicker and more intuitive onboarding process. However, today’s top enterprise-grade tablets either run the Android™ operating system (OS) or the same professional grade Windows 10 OS used on desktops and laptops, offering a similar user experience that can be just as simple – and even more rewarding in the long run – to introduce into the company’s workflows.
For example, bringing together the mobility of a smartphone with the larger screen and the advanced processing power of a desktop or laptop computer, tablets enable highly mobile workers to access the data, native apps and other enterprise systems they need just as easily as if they were sitting at a desk. They can also connect with their colleagues to collaborate in real time via push-to-talk voice apps and augmented reality tools that allow for remote assistance by specialists. To illustrate: in a study of field service industry leaders, 35% prioritize mobile devices to enable faster response times to unexpected events, such as system outages or emergency incidents, while 34% invest in mobility for improved communications.
Of course, the value of rugged enterprise-grade tablets will be unique to each business, as these devices tend to be configured for specific users and specialized use cases. However, there is a baseline value shared among all users and defined by the key attributes that universally separate purpose-built tablets from their consumer counterparts, including their:
1. rugged reliability,
2. unparalleled customization and management control,
3. ability to maintain peak performance levels all day long,
4. very long lifecycles, and
5. environmentally sustainable designs.
Let’s delve deeper into these five attributes to understand why forward-thinking companies are increasingly opting to equip field-based workers and others who spend long periods of time away from their desks with enterprise-grade tablets.
RUGGED RELIABILITY AND RESILIENT PERFORMANCE
Those who are often on the go and working in remote, rural or otherwise unpredictable environments, such as field service and utility technicians, manufacturing teams, construction crews, merchandisers and public safety professionals, demand powerful, mission-critical devices. Consumer tablets frequently shut down when confronted with extreme temperatures, high humidity, and even salty air, whereas ruggedized enterprise devices are inherently built from the inside out to withstand challenging environments, including extreme heat and frigid cold. Their advantage lies in being able to keep workers efficient no matter the climate or task at hand.
Rugged tablets can also withstand the heavy use and potential damage that comes with using devices while high in the air in bucket trucks servicing power lines, in remote areas inspecting pipelines, assembling aircraft, or even setting up seasonal displays in retail stores. This includes accidental drops to concrete and repeated exposure to dust, dirt, vibration and water. Yet they are just as easy as a consumer device to use while walking and working. In fact, there are typically several accessories available that make it easy to carry enterprise-grade tablets around everywhere, including hand straps, shoulder straps and more.
Unlike consumer tablets, ruggedized enterprise devices also feature outdoor viewable, dimmable, glove touch capable displays that are reinforced against the bumps and drops, making them easy to use day or night, even when it’s raining, snowing, cloudy or sunny. And should they get dusty, dirty or otherwise contaminated throughout the day, they can easily be wiped down or even rinsed under running water without the screen getting ruined or interior components getting wet. (Many enterprise-grade rugged devices are IP65, IP67 or even IP68 rated!)
In a nutshell, their durable and thoughtful ergonomic designs provide unmatched reliability compared to the fragile components of the average consumer tablet.
UNPARALLELED CUSTOMIZATION AND CONTROL
There’s a tablet for every kind of business. While front-line utility workers may need to prioritize drop-proof, high-visibility screens and GIS access, public safety and healthcare workers may need 2-in-1 functionality with a detachable keyboard or access to more secure data and information systems to run background checks or retrieve patient records. Retailers may look for devices that boast user-friendly interfaces and easy, ergonomic portability with point-of-sale payment processing capabilities. And merchandisers may need to be able to see detailed planograms in variable lighting and a way to get customer sign off on deliveries or setups. Equipped with the right devices, employees can run any native apps to meet their unique operational requirements.
Finding the right device extends beyond the form factor, though. There is an extensive number of accessories and optional features available with rugged tablets that are rarely offered with consumer devices, such as integrated barcode scanners and RFID readers, dedicated GPS, specialized mounting and docking systems, and legacy input/output (I/O) such as RFJ45 or HDMI-in. Many consumer tablets don’t even come with a headphone jack anymore, and they are typically equipped with far fewer USB ports than the average worker needs these days.
In addition to control over configuration, enterprise devices are built with business operations in mind: software upgrades and other updates can be done when it is most convenient to the business, so they do not interfere with other applications or ongoing workflows. In addition, enhanced security and IT management tools such as multi-factor authentication, SmartCard/Common Access Card readers, application whitelisting, multi-user login, lock, wipe, and device monitoring help protect valuable and sensitive data and ensure fast and reliable connectivity.
PEAK PERFORMANCE THAT LASTS AN ENTIRE SHIFT
Tools for portability, including hot swappable or auxiliary batteries, allow enterprise tablets to last an entire shift without stopping or switching devices. At the same time, the memory, storage and desktop-comparable processing power of rugged enterprise tablets make it easy to run high-performance, workflow-specific applications that introduce greater efficiency into workers’ days.
Wireless connectivity typically isn’t a problem with enterprise devices, either, as engineers take extra care to integrate the right antennas in the right place to ensure a constant signal is maintained with cellular, Wi-Fi and/or private networks per device configuration, including dedicated public safety networks.
When it comes to consumer-grade tablets, the long tail of inefficiency adds up. With a more reliable fleet of devices, businesses will not need to keep a large population of spares on hand or waste the time and fuel required to ship damaged devices to and from a service center.
Long-lasting and easily replaceable components like batteries extend the life cycle of enterprise tablets compared to consumer-grade devices where the battery is not field replaceable and must instead be shipped out for service. In addition, other components like chargers and adapters are upgraded only when needed, rather than with every new device iteration.
In fact, consumer mobile devices cost up to 50% more than rugged devices over five years.
MEETING CORPORATE SUSTAINABILITY GOALS
As consumer expectations for sustainable products increase and environmental regulations evolve, sustainability has in many ways become table stakes. That’s why many companies are giving more weight to rugged enterprise tablets, which can easily last up to 10 years with the right maintenance. The extended lifespan reduces the overall carbon footprint of businesses, especially when compared to consumer devices that may reach end of life in one or two years – or sooner with heavy use. By opting for devices that boast lower churn rates and can easily be refurbished or recycled when it comes time for replacement, companies minimize their contribution to landfills and hazardous waste disposal practices that are harmful to the planet.
Also noteworthy: rugged device manufacturers have secured certifications like the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) from the Global Electronics Council for materials transparency and third-party confirmation to prove they are developing and selling a truly green product. This can be a key differentiator in a competitive market for manufacturers as well as their customers. More young professionals seek employers that prioritize the environment and live up to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments. As a result, more companies now value sustainable product design and appreciate the measures being taken by device manufacturers to reduce the use of plastic and overall packaging material in shipping processes.
THE FUTURE IN YOUR HANDS
New challenges and changing circumstances require businesses to embrace technology solutions that can support the unique needs of their front-line and field-based workers. Though it may seem easiest to give them “familiar” consumer-grade laptops, tablets or 2-in-1s, the familiarity is not lost on rugged enterprise-grade tablets. In fact, the user experience may be significantly improved, as workers gain the added benefit of customized feature sets, enterprise-grade security and communication tools, extreme versatility and proven device reliability. With the wide range of rugged tablets built today for specific workers and workflows, they are proving to be the only type of tablet relevant to nearly every work environment, from retail stores to police stations.