Rugged Computing Still A Strong Market
Demand for field service and field sales applications continues to strengthen the rugged computing market and help VARs earn hefty margins.
The rugged computing market is one of the fastest- growing segments of the mobile computing industry. In fact, research firm Venture Development Corp. (VDC) estimates the rugged mobile computing market will reach $6 billion in sales worldwide by 2005. Are you surprised? Most VARs probably are not. As wireless technology has progressed over the past few years, field service and field sales applications have correspondingly blossomed. But without rugged computing devices, these field applications would be left to languish. After all, how effective is a field service application if the laptop or PDA (personal digital assistant) designed to collect the data is always being repaired?
What Does Rugged Computing Mean To You?
According to Sheila O'Neil, director of channel sales at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company (Secaucus, NJ), rugged is not the technology but a design feature enabling increased reliability and decreased downtime for mobile computing users. "To sell ruggedized computers, VARs need to learn to sell reliability and mobility," O'Neil says. "Rugged is not just what is on the outside of a box, but all the components inside as well. VARs need to understand the difference and communicate it to their customers."
That communication starts with understanding the difference between the various classifications of the term "rugged". On the low-end of the spectrum are the common commercial or non-rugged notebook or laptop computers that are usually no match for environments where these devices can be dropped or subjected to water or dust. The semi-rugged category offers some external protection from environmental elements, but still leaves the display and the internal components susceptible to damage. Finally, true rugged mobile computing devices are internally and externally designed to resist vibration, dust, water, temperature extremes, and repeated drops onto hard surfaces. This final category of devices should meet or exceed MIL-STD-810F, a military standard for test procedures for ruggedized compliance.
Knowing Just The Hardware Won't Make The Sale
As O'Neil points out, a rugged notebook is part of a solution; it is not the solution. Thus, to be successful selling these products, a VAR also needs to understand wireless technology and the integration needed for installing mobile computing devices. For instance, Richard Perley, senior VP at ruggedized mobile computing company Xplore Technologies (Austin, TX) says, "One of the biggest challenges VARs have in mobile computing deployments is selecting the optimal mounting equipment [if needed] for an application. These devices are commonly used in all types of vehicles, including trucks, forklifts, and mobile carts. VARs need to know the exact details regarding how users will interface with the mobile computer in order to mount and configure these devices."
VARs selling rugged mobile computing products should also understand cellular network technology as well as WLAN (wireless local area network) and WWAN (wireless wide area network) technologies. After all, the most common markets for rugged computing - public safety, utilities, telecommunications, military, and commercial repair - rely on a wireless connection for transmitting data.
Four Times The Margins
"Another factor to consider as a VAR selling ruggedized solutions is the enhanced profit margins as compared to selling commodity notebook devices," says Jeff Gibbons, VP of marketing at Itronix Corp. (Spokane, WA). "Typically, the cost of a ruggedized notebook is up to four times that of a commodity laptop. If a VAR is engaged in selling the value-add services packages that vendors offer in addition to the hardware, then margins have a chance to grow even more as the size of the potential opportunity grows," states Gibbons.
As long as wireless speeds and bandwidth continue to increase, enterprise customers will continue to seek ways of staying connected to field workers. Consequently, rugged mobile computing devices will remain in demand. As Perley says, "The importance of rugged computing solutions to customers across a variety of expanding vertical markets is increasing exponentially."