Big Prospects For Small Handhelds
Small handheld computers are in demand in markets like healthcare, retail, security, and logistics. But are you selling these customers more features than they need?
When you bought your cell phone, what features did you look for? Did you want a sleek design, call forwarding, games, call waiting, voice mail, one-touch dialing? Or, did you just take the free phone that came with the airtime because you couldn't care less about any advanced features - you just wanted a tool to wirelessly communicate?
Although there aren't as many models of handheld computers used for data collection as there are cell phones, the selection process can still be daunting for your customers. You may be saying, "Hey, it's a VAR's job to be the filter for those types of purchasing decisions." True, yet how many of your customers already have done their homework or at least have a preconceived notion of what make and model they want? This may be especially true when the product of choice is a smaller form factor handheld.
"In the past, data collection devices were designed specifically for vertical markets and were not flexible," states Dan Diliberti, channel development manager for handheld/bar code scanner vendor DENSO (Southfield, MI). "It was uncommon to see a logistics device cross over into a medical application, for example. Today, open standards have created a whole new world for portable data collection applications."
Some Markets Want Smaller Handhelds
Any customer would probably prefer a smaller handheld computer, but some actually need a PDA (personal digital assistant)-like device or a unit that can fit into a coat pocket. According to Maurice Waters, U.S. manager and VP at handheld vendor Cipherlab (Gig Harbor, WA), the healthcare, retail, security, and logistics markets are where smaller handhelds are in the greatest demand. "There are many legacy terminals still being used in these markets," Waters says. "Those terminals, in many cases, are now more than 10 years old."
To some of these verticals, automated data collection is new, while others have been toying with the technology for years. Those with experience have used handhelds for applications such as inventory management, mobile point of sale, and parcel delivery. Healthcare, in particular, continues to be a growing market for data collection devices. Harry Lerner, VP and general manager of mobile PDA solutions at Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY), lists the following as some of the most common healthcare applications for handheld computers:
- Medication administration
- Charge capture
- Record tracking
- Review of lab results
- Positive patient ID
- Nursing orders
- Supply management
- Pharmacy orders by doctors
- Review of pharmacy profiles
- Specimen collection
Offer Durability, Easy Configuration/Implementation
When choosing the right handheld for your customer, there are some features that should top your list. For instance, no matter who your customer is, it is likely they want some high degree of durability. And durability doesn't always mean the device has to withstand extreme weather conditions or military drop specifications. Some customers just want a handheld that doesn't have to be treated like a fine piece of china. After all, at some point, someone will probably drop the unit.
Furthermore, don't underestimate the importance of the ease of implementation and configuration. "We are so accustomed to plug and play devices on our desktops, we expect handhelds to be as easy to configure and use," explains Mike Kearby, president of mobile computing vendor American Microsystems, LTD (Euless, TX). "The end user shouldn't have to be a programmer to set up a handheld."
Are You Overselling?
As the cell phone example illustrates, no matter how many bells and whistles a device has, not everyone will use all the options. Nearly all of the executives interviewed agreed that VARs often sell handhelds with more functionality than a customer needs. Especially in the aforementioned verticals, data collection is commonly only black-and-white text data. Rarely are graphics or color data being collected or displayed. Thus, if your customer only needs to capture bar codes or key in a few numbers, a Windows CE device with a lot of processing power that will eat up a battery's life span may be overkill.
"VARs should sell the best solution that fits the customer's needs, not the solution that, on the surface, appears to be the one that is going to generate a bigger sale," Kearby says. "Resist the temptation to sell a device with all the bells and whistles when all they need is a little buzzer. You may risk losing the sale to a competitor that recognized what the customer's true needs are, or if you make the sale, you'll have to live with supporting a device that is too complicated and introduces too many variables."
Waters agrees, saying VARs should practice the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle when selling handhelds. "Many of these markets are mature and happy with their old systems, as long as they can upgrade the hardware to versions that aren't overly complicated," he explains. "To them, the more features there are, the more that potentially can go wrong. That's why many of these markets still have older equipment."
Unfortunately, a smaller form factor doesn't mean better margins than larger units. VARs still need to focus on services if they want to really profit from selling these devices. But Diliberti says one benefit of these types of handhelds is a shorter sales cycle since project sizes tend to be small. "Also, support of a small form factor handheld - especially one used in a batch data collection application - is minimal, leaving time for salespeople and engineers to spend selling instead of repairing," he concludes.
Lerner adds that corporate customers now want to own, manage, and control mobile PDA solutions on their premises the same way they understand and manage wired networks and desktop PCs. "IT professionals and corporate managers aren't looking for toys, they're looking for tools," Lerner says. "VARs who provide those winning tools will do very well."