Rugged vs consumer devices: What’s better for field services?
Not long ago, we wrote about the challenges of getting an ERP solution like SAP Business One set up for mobile working. This might sound like a simple enough job, but it’s actually a little more involved than installing a vendor’s app on a handful of devices – there are also important decisions to make around factors like security, usability and cost, and even a small misjudgement could spell the difference between a successful rollout and a failed one.
This also applies to choice of hardware. Significantly, in an industry like field services, there’s the question of whether technicians should be equipped with consumer-grade technology – think off-the-shelf smartphones and tablets – or specialist, rugged devices designed specifically for use in harsh working conditions. And this isn’t as simple a choice as you might think.
At one time, it was more or less accepted that field service organisations should go down the rugged route. The environmental threats to their devices were too great to ignore, and more than justified the outlay on specialist hardware.
However, since the mobile boom that started with the launch of the original iPhone in 2007, the price differential between rugged and consumer devices has grown massively. The cost of consumer smartphones and tablets has come way down, and their utility gone way up, and most will now comfortably trounce their rugged counterparts on price. So, depending on other factors, it’s not unthinkable that a field service organisation should go down the consumer route and take it on the chin if a device fails.
What’s more, consumer devices have steadily become better and better at what they do, and are now readily accepted – despite the consumer label – as effective all-round business tools. As such, they may also have the advantage when it comes to factors like screen size, computing power and portability.
That said, if your field service team requires hardware that can be used easily with gloved hands, in direct sunlight or for a long time without charging, rugged devices may still have the upper hand.
Software is less of an issue in the consumer versus rugged debate than it once was – you can now buy consumer devices that run Windows and rugged devices that run Android or iOS, as well as vice versa, so it’s rare to be stuck in one camp. Still, it’s important to consider whether or not your ERP solution (as well as any other software you use) is compatible with your first choice of hardware, and this could weigh on your decision to go down the rugged or consumer route.
Finally, even within the field service industry, the day-to-day usage of mobile devices can vary wildly. Some technicians will face harsher working conditions than others; some will spend hours on end with their tablets in hand, while others will keep their devices in the back of a van for most of the day.
With this in mind, it’s important to learn as much as possible about the real-world behaviour of your field service team before making the choice between rugged and consumer devices. Their needs may be quite different to what you think.