Investing in a mobile computing solution is an important step for fleet-based operations. Your objectives in implementing such a solution most likely include greater operational efficiency, lower fuel use, a safer driving environment, and happier customers, to name a few. But what are the key features to look for in a mobile computer that will help you achieve these objectives? While it’s tempting to look only at the sticker price, it’s critical to look at other factors that lead to a device’s total cost of ownership, or TCO, over the product’s life span. Here’s a guide to other important considerations:
Durability is key given that: “on average, 4 percent of rugged mobile computers installed to support enterprise mobility applications in “harsh” environments fail per year. Conversely, the annual failure rate for commercial grade devices in similar harsh conditions rockets to 36 percent.”(i) When you factor in device replacement rates (12 to 18 months for commercial devices versus 7 plus years for quality rugged devices) and downtime costs, the price of commercial grade devices can far exceed their initial price.
Look for rugged computers that meet MIL-STD 810-F and IP54 standards to ensure that they can handle vibration, shock, dust, and water exposure, as well as temperature fluctuations, all things very present in the vehicle environment.
Support, Training and Upgrades
Because commercial-grade devices, like smartphones, are geared towards the consumer, their support programs may not account for the urgency of mission-critical situations. Rugged devices are more likely to be backed by fleet-focused companies who understand real-time needs, with 24/7 support plans and comprehensive training.
Also consider how upgradable the mobile computer is in order to protect your initial investment and keep your organization current. “Rugged units are typically designed to offer users an upgrade path. Because non-rugged units are primarily targeted at the consumer and white-collar markets, industry-specific upgrade paths are far less compelling.” (ii)
With mobile computers such as smartphones, you rely on the driver to charge it, turn it on, and keep it with them. There is the potential for drivers to cut off GPS reception by putting the computer in a foil bag or deactivating the tracking software. There have also been cases where the driver gives the computer to a colleague and takes the day off, thereby giving the impression that they are still at work.
A computer installed in the vehicle is turned on with the ignition and is much more difficult to tamper with. Integrated with the vehicle, rugged devices let you track OBDII data, which includes odometer monitoring, problem codes, fuel consumption, RPM, and oil temperatures. With this real-time data managers can address unnecessary idling and excessive speeding, automate maintenance and safety checks, and warn drivers about safety concerns, such as loose equipment.
When compared to mobile computers that remain with the driver, in-vehicle rugged computers are much less likely to be lost, stolen, broken or tampered with. Plus, the information captured by the devices is sent to head office in real time. You maintain control of the device and information being sent or received on it, versus the driver having control, so company-sensitive data is protected.
Though the initial cost of a commercial device is often less, the cost quickly rises when you start to integrate it with things like card swipes, lights, sirens, PTO and RFID readers. By choosing a rugged device that connects to these you can create a complete mobile solution without spending additional time and money on integration.
As well, choose a rugged device manufacturer who has multiple software applications and can tailor a solution to you. These companies are also more likely to have relationships with back-office software suppliers so integration is simplified.
Message Transmission Rates
According to a study by VDC: “Wireless transmission failure is almost three times as much for non-rugged notebooks when compared to rugged notebooks. Each failed transmission leads to 5 to 10 minutes in lost productivity and as a result can significantly add to TCO, not to mention employee frustration.” (iii)
Remote Programming Capabilities
Selecting a rugged in-vehicle computer that lets you program and update software programs from the office versus going to each vehicle individually or having to collect devices from each driver saves considerable time and money and minimizes downtime.
Commercial-grade devices, such as smartphones, are difficult and dangerous to view while driving, and managers have no control over how or when drivers are using them. That’s alarming when you consider that text messaging while driving increases the risk of collision by more than 23 times. (iv) Instead, by choosing in-vehicle computers that let you set parameters around their use, you can better manage fleet/passenger safety. These computers can be programmed so the screen is only visible when the vehicle isn’t in motion, or to only offer very limited functionality when in motion. As well, the driver’s messaging capability can be suspended while driving.
Ease of Use
Look for rugged fixed-mount computers that take into account limited in-vehicle real-estate, while still being large enough for easy viewing in any lighting condition and provide easy data entry with canned messages. Easy to use computers are more likely to be utilized to their full potential by drivers. Commercial devices, such as smartphones have a small keypad and screen, making it difficult to quickly send messages or view navigational maps without excessive scrolling.
Delays in service due to failed computers can negatively impact your customer’s experience, leading to poor customer satisfaction rates and lost business. A rugged device with integrated GPS capabilities lets your dispatchers deliver accurate vehicle location information to customers, improving their experience with your organization.
Ultimately, you want to think about your objectives in implementing a mobile computing solution, and then determine the best computer to meet those objectives. This shouldn’t simply be based on the devices’ upfront cost, but on the overall value they will bring to your organization. A mobile computing solution has the potential to streamline operations, and take your organization to a whole new level of productivity so it’s important to pick the right device for your needs.
i.“Enterprise Mobility TCO—When Rugged Makes Sense.” by David Krebs. In Insight, Pg. 42, 2005.
ii.“Are Rugged Computers More Expensive?” by Ed Hess. In Integrated Solutions, September 2004.
iii. “TCO Insights on Rugged Mobile Computers” Market Analysis By: VDC, Pg. 5
iv.“Text Messaging While Driving can be Deadly.” by Faiza Elmasry. In VOA News, August 2009.