Top 5 Tips for Choosing Mobile Computers: The move to mobile

Author: Cameron Wilson, Regional Business Manager, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions, ANZ

Each organisation has its own unique operations, which are shaped by a range of factors including different environments, climates, users, workflows and size. Therefore as well as keeping up with technology trends in the mobile computing marketplace, it is important for enterprises to assess which device will best meet the individual needs of their business not only as it exists now, but also as it grows and changes in the future. With an endless supply of devices on offer, organisations may find it helpful to check-list a series of considerations and tips to help them choose the right mobile computer.

Consider the Environment and the User

The most important factor in finding the right fit for an enterprise mobile computer is the environment in which it will be used. Failure rates for handheld devices vary widely, from device to device, manufacturer to manufacturer, which is a reflection of how rugged the mobile computer is and how well it is suited for the specific usage environment. For example, a handheld that will land on a carpeted floor when it is dropped doesn’t need to be as rugged as one that will land on concrete. Drops are the leading cause of damage to mobile computers and are the leading cause of resulting damage and downtime. To be considered rugged — and therefore reliable — mobile computers must be rated to repeatedly withstand at least five-foot drops to a non-yielding surface.

Understanding how the computer will be used is also very important. Not all work is performed the same, so observing how different workers go about their daily activities is worth the investment in time. These observations provide insight on how processes can be improved and which mobile computer features are desirable. For example, even a small, lightweight computer with keys can be awkward to use during processes that constantly require workers to lift or pull items, so voice / speech input would be valuable because it provides hands-free data entry so workers can keep their eyes and hands on the task.

Stick to Industry Standards and Certifications

Rugged mobile computers are specialised devices designed for collecting data and providing real-time information in non-office environments, but they should still adhere to enterprise standards for connectivity, security and development whenever possible. Specifying devices that meet these criteria will help keep down development, integration and support expenses, which can vary greatly and are a significant source of minimising the total cost of the device.

Mobile computers should communicate with enterprise systems using standard connectivity and security. Security policies should not be adjusted or weakened to accommodate wireless mobile devices. Mobile computers are available that support a variety of standard wireless security protocols (including 802.11x, WPA2, FIPS, et al) and virtual private networks (VPNs) so security can be applied and managed consistently with that used for laptop and desktop computers. Organisations with wireless LAN backbones from Cisco Systems should specify CCX certification for their mobile devices to simplify integration and management and to benefit from the advanced features available in a Cisco environment. If wide-area wireless connectivity will be used, the mobile device maker should have partnerships with cellular carriers and offer devices certified for data and voice on the preferred network.

Simplify Support

It is important not only to consider the workers who will use mobile computers, but those who will support them. Support-friendly features and compatibility with IT asset management and mobile device management systems help increase uptime and productivity while reducing support costs. Because they are designed for large deployments (rather than for sale to individual consumers) enterprise mobile computers often have built in features that streamline provisioning and deployment, enable remote, no-touch troubleshooting and configuration changes, and otherwise allow proactive management.

Choosing devices with a stable operating system and integrated support capability also provides flexibility for large rollouts, where it is common for some users to receive their mobile computers a year or even longer after the first group deployed. Changes to applications and device configurations are inevitable, so standardised systems and remote management capability are key to keeping mobile device populations consistent and optimised.

Remote management is especially important for mobile devices deployed for field based and other off-premise operations because workers do not have ready access to spare equipment. Productivity losses can be very high if devices or applications lock up or fail to work in those environments.

 Require Flexibility

Rugged mobile computers can withstand drops, shocks, humidity, heat, cold, rain, snow and even occasional vandalism, but often they can’t survive a change of mind or business requirements. The leading reason mobile computers used in industrial, retail, distribution and service environments are replaced is not damage or device failure. Instead, most mobile computers are replaced because they are considered technologically obsolete and can’t support desired information systems, software applications or business processes. To avoid this unnecessary expense, it is important to select mobile computers that can change with the organisation and provide a platform for future enhancements.

Many organisations transition from traditional bar code reading to more sophisticated and varied means of image capture. These include reading 2D bar codes on parts and shipping labels and replacing bar code-only readers with devices that can capture customer signatures for proof of delivery, take digital images to document delivery, pickup or maintenance conditions, and even to perform document imaging for electronic document processing. Mobile imagers integrated into mobile computers can perform all these functions, plus read 1D and 2D bar codes. Integrated imaging provides flexibility to meet a variety of data and image capture needs without requiring separate peripheral devices.

Pay Attention to Power

Scanning and imaging, data collection and processing, wireless communication and other enterprise mobile computing activities all draw power from the device battery. Power management is a very important (and often overlooked) feature of mobile computers because it directly impacts uptime and user productivity and acceptance. Power management should be evaluated beyond what’s on the spec sheet. Organisations should develop usage models that outline how much the mobile computers will be used and which capabilities (e.g. bar code reading, wireless communication) will be used so power requirements and performance results from pilots or other testing can be factored into the mobile device selection.

The right mobile computer for the right job

Many mobile computers can quickly be ruled out from consideration because they lack the battery power to last the length of a shift, or lack the staying power to remain reliable throughout a three-to-five year life cycle. Features like rugged construction, well supported operating systems, standard interfaces, remote management support and flexible peripherals provide value by protecting organisations from having to replace their mobile computers prematurely. By understanding how these features differentiate devices, and by carefully considering the environment in which mobile computers will be used, organisations will be able to determine the device that will provide the most value.

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