Guest Column | March 4, 2014

8 Mobile Computer Must-Haves Your Customers Can't Do Without

By Barry Issberner, senior director of enterprise products and solutions marketing, Motorola

You knew this day would come. Your customers' need for greater mobility and advanced applications has moved from a nice to have to a critical business requirement. Their legacy systems can’t keep up with rapidly evolving customer, technology and business demands. Inefficiencies are costing them time and money. From the front office to the distribution center and all points in between, mobile technology creates the foundation on which successful, profitable businesses are now built. And the time to invest is now.

But how do you choose? Where do you start? With technology advancements moving so fast, how do you evaluate which mobile solutions will meet your current needs and also scale to accommodate future demands? Determining the ideal fit of technology to business goals, worker and function is a very important part of the mobility equation and ultimately impacts your total cost of operation (TCO). As you consider new investments, here’s a list of mobile computer “must haves” you simply can’t afford to do without:

Purpose Built Technology

You wouldn’t give a construction worker a rake to dig a hole or a warehouse picker an extension ladder to load and haul boxes off a shelf. It’s very important to arm workers with the right tool for the job to ensure it’s done correctly, efficiently and safely. The same holds true with mobile device technology. While everyone wants the latest and greatest capabilities that consumer devices deliver, they also want technology that helps them work smarter. Designed to meet mass demand, consumer technology will never provide the security features or stand up to the rigors of continuous use. And shoe-horning those into your operation will end up costing you more money in the long run.

Before you decide on a specific mobile device or platform, ask yourself:

  • What are the right devices for the right jobs?  Do they need additional protection from real world abuse?  Do I need devices with a built-in scanner, or a hard keyboard? Do I need devices to function hands-free all day?
  • Are they ergonomic? Safe for the user’s environment?
  • Does the operating system accommodate the applications I need to make workers more productive and efficient?  Do I need to capitalize on the growth in the “app” market? 
  • Do they provide the reliability and security required to protect business critical data?
  • Do I need extra control over how long I can buy the product?  If the product availability unexpectedly ends, will that impact my business?

Workers who spend eight hours a day, all day, in the warehouse or driving a truck need ruggedized handheld mobile computers that are task specific, use ergonomic keyboards and easy-to-read screens to improve productivity. Mobile operators or field sales/service teams need enterprise tablets with a large screen and the horsepower to support additional graphic-intensive applications and voice capabilities. For order pickers and other workers who find it difficult to juggle a mobile device or paper task lists, hands-free wearable mobile technologies make an ideal accessory. No longer having to struggle with un-holstering and re-holstering a scanner while trying to pick and carry product at the same time, warehouse workers can do their jobs faster, safer and with fewer mistakes. Only purpose fit technologies can accomplish these goals.

Reliable Voice Communications
Seems pretty straightforward, but in an enterprise or industrial setting, it’s anything but. Voice technology has enjoyed many advancements over the last decade, all designed to make conversations easier and connections faster. The voice quality of consumer devices has evolved as well, but will never deliver the features that are most appropriate for an enterprise setting largely because they are cost prohibitive.

What are some of the features that matter most? Voice quality has to be loud enough to hear and be heard in any environment – even hands-free – with ambient noise from wind, machines, trucks or the road filtered out. The ability to connect and reliably extend push-to-talk capabilities inside the four walls and across your PBX outside the four walls allows greater worker productivity and lowers operating costs. And only enterprise mobile computers can deliver it.

Enterprise Class Operating Systems and Applications
Consumer devices have undoubtedly made their mark. As a manufacturer, we’ve learned a lot from the evolution of their operating systems and applications, their strengths in user interface (UI) and their weaknesses. Microsoft still has a dominant share of device deployments, but enterprise-class Android deployments continue to gain ground. With new utility layers that deliver the security, device management and control enterprise customers’ demand, new Android-based mobile devices can deliver a common user experience while addressing specific IT and business requirements. In addition, solutions that allow developers to write apps regardless of operating system (OS), will help future-proof investments and shield Android from the deficiencies inherent in consumer devices. 

Rapid Data Capture
Real-time asset visibility. No matter what industry you’re in, knowing what inventory you have and where it’s located across all supply chain channels is critical to running an efficient and profitable business. With the right mobile solution in the warehouse, electronic forms can replace paper in receiving, quality control, put-away, replenishment, picking and packing. Not only are electronic orders sent instantly to the device, but the ability to scan barcodes, direct part marks or RFID tags, ensures inventory is stored in the right place and makes it to the right place, no matter the location.  You also need to control the attributes of that scanner, the applications that run it and the battery that powers it, to ensure it lasts multiple shifts and can support multiple user profiles.

While smartphone barcode reader applications have improved, they simply can’t meet a diverse set of user requirements. They don’t have a dedicated camera or imager and can’t read barcodes quickly, at a distance or accurately if they are damaged. Enterprise-class mobile computers, on the other hand, have dedicated scanners, support multiple users and are built specifically to capture and load information quickly and efficiently.

Built to Last
Enterprise mobile devices are built tough. They are rugged, durable and designed to work reliably in the toughest environments. A dropped device will not shatter screens, or interrupt work flows.  Water, ice, salt, sand, heat, blunt force impacts; they are designed to withstand it all and keep on working. Devices should be selected based on the environment and the work that needs to be accomplished in that environment. Smartphone technology is cool, but one drop on a concrete floor and business-critical work would come to a complete stop. Enterprise devices are built to last longer, don’t break as often and are easier to repair.  As you would expect, increased durability also increases costs, but for most applications the investment pays huge dividends in the future in decreased repair costs and reduced downtime.

IT Friendly
Managing a fleet of devices is no easy task, no matter if that number totals a dozen or hundreds. The right product should deliver more than a sexy display. Ensuring the stability, predictability and consistency of enterprise communications is paramount to any IT operation. You need the right APIs for remote management, support for multiple users and commercial OS features such as Wi-Fi encryption, image stability and security protocols. Most importantly, having the ability to control infrastructure and necessary updates and upgrades on a structured timeline keeps business running smoothly and minimizes downtime. Visibility to operating system upgrades and product migration paths is a vitally important part of the planning process – and not something consumer device manufacturers provide.

A Partner Ecosystem you can Trust
For businesses to grow and thrive takes the right solution – and not the exact same solution as everyone else. Business requirements are unique. So too, are the solutions your partners should deliver.  Having access to a dedicated network of highly skilled and trusted partners to support you from beginning to end can’t be understated

Make Smart Investments
TCO never goes out of style.  We need to keep costs down to keep profits up.  Studies from multiple leading industry analysts firms, such as Gartner and VDC, suggest that over three years, the total cost of a typical consumer smartphone is actually 25-50 percent higher than the total cost of a similar enterprise-grade device. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” still holds true today.

If the time has come to invest in new mobile computer solutions, remember the devil is in the details. Not all mobile devices or solutions are created equally. While having a strategic mobile device strategy matters, today, it’s really about finding the right partner rather than device. With technology continuing to evolve at a rapid pace, partners that can design, deliver and support that strategy with purpose-built mobile solutions will deliver the greatest return on investment and help strengthen enterprises’ competitive advantage. For more information about how an enterprise-grade mobile computer can bring a personal touch to business, please watch this video