When You Like It Rough
In harsh work environments with dust, gases, water, and extreme temperature changes, ruggedized computers may be the only answer to solving customer computing needs.
The economy is slowing down and that's scary for all of us. The key to surviving in this business climate is to focus on product offerings that are recession-proof. Ruggedized notebook computers fall into this category.
I recently spoke with two leaders in this market, Sheila O'Neil, director of channel sales for Panasonic Computer Solutions Company (Secaucus, NJ), and Jeff Gibbons, vice president of worldwide marketing for Itronix Corporation (Spokane, WA). Here's the good news; they both said sales of ruggedized notebook computers are growing steadily despite what we're hearing about the economy.
Can That Be True?
My answer is yes, but here is what they told me. "Sales are growing because companies recognize the need for this technology," said Panasonic's O'Neil. "When the economy slows down, markets become more competitive. To beat your competitors, you must provide better service. Service technicians need to have access to computers - reliable computers that can withstand the sometimes harsh elements of the work environment. They need computers that can withstand a fall when accidentally dropped. They need ruggedized computers."
Gibbons agrees, "Sales of ruggedized computers usually mirror sales of regular notebook computers, but that is not the case in the current market. Ruggedized computer sales remain strong. If customers need this technology, they're going to buy it. Itronix' typical customers are still going ahead with projects. The government has not retracted any of its BPAs (buying and purchasing agreements)."
Expanding The Market
The use of WWAN (wireless wide area network) technology expands the market for ruggedized notebook computers. With WWAN technology, workers can use their computers almost everywhere. Dispatchers can reach their delivery trucks or field service technicians. O'Neil cited growing markets such as utilities, telecommunications, insurance, oil and gas, manufacturing, and emergency medical providers.
Gibbons told me that office workers are beginning to see the value of ruggedized technology as well. "People often spend $4,000 or more on notebook computers," said Gibbons. "Notebooks and laptops can fall off a desk, even in an office environment. They can be crushed in an overhead compartment in an airplane. There are a number of ways regular notebook computers can be damaged. And, if they are damaged, the owners of the computers have big problems. They either lose their complete investments, or they have to send the computers in for repair. If they send their computers in for repair, they must pay for the repairs, and they are unable to use their computers for up to six weeks. Either scenario is unpleasant. Ruggedized technology is like an insurance policy against these mishaps."
There Are Challenges
Both O'Neil and Gibbons said the biggest challenge in the ruggedized computer market is consumer education. "We need to make consumers understand total cost of ownership," said Gibbons. "Ruggedized notebook computers may be more expensive up front, but when you compare total cost of ownership, regular notebooks could easily be more expensive during the product lifetime. There are simply less repair costs and fewer periods of downtime with ruggedized units."
The Final Word
O'Neil left me with this advice for VARs, "Ruggedized computers are still a relatively young product and that's good news for VARs. Profit margins are still high. There is a limited amount of VARs selling ruggedized products; there is a limited amount of vendors manufacturing ruggedized products; and, there is unlimited market potential."