Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
You’ve decided to equip your fleet with mobile computers to increase organizational efficiencies. Considering that fleet-based organizations can see a 23 percent improvement in workforce productivity by implementing a mobile solutioni, that’s an easy choice. Now comes the hard part—deciding on the best device for your needs. There are a myriad of choices from consumer-grade to rugged devices, but which one will best suit your business?
It’s important to consider how the device will work with your existing and future software needs, how user-friendly it will be for your staff, and if it will help you achieve your objectives; including greater efficiency, happier customers, lower fuel costs, increased safety, reduced liability, greater competitiveness, and a solid return on investment.
Evaluating Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Looking only at the upfront cost is not enough when considering such a vital component of your service suite. Instead, analyzing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the device you choose is a better determiner of a sound investment. Having to replace devices often or buy additional equipment to attain the functionality needed can dramatically increase the cost of a seemingly inexpensive commercial-grade tablet or smartphone. According to research by Venture Development Corp., an independent market research and strategy-consulting firm, “The TCO of rugged mobile computers is in many cases lower when compared to non-rugged mobile computers.”ii
A thorough TCO approach lets you find the lifetime costs of purchasing and operating a mobile computer. This table highlights some of the hidden costs:
According to the study by VDC, it is not unusual for a smartphone or consumer tablet to have to be replaced two or even three times before a rugged device would need to be replaced. In the study, VDC found after 3 years 82.6 percent of consumer devices had to be replaced compared to just 18.2 percent of rugged devices.iii “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 environments rockets to 36 percent.”iv In general, the lifespan of a commercial device is between 12 and 18 months, compared to 7 plus years for good quality rugged devices. Factoring in the device replacement costs for commercial computers increases their TCO significantly.
Whether a smart phone or tablet is damaged, lost or stolen, which are all very real possibilities because of its mobile nature, it results in downtime, lost productivity, and lost data. “Mobile device end users lost an average of 75-minutes of productivity each time the device failed.”v Considering the high failure rate for commercial-grade devices, that is a significant loss of time and revenue.
Message Transmission Rates
According to the VDC study: “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.”vi Rugged devices will continue to transmit data or information until it is received in the office or vehicle, this ensures accurate reporting and completely eliminates the need for paper manifests or workorders.
Additional Hardware/Software Costs
Though the initial cost of a commercial device is less, the cost quickly rises when you start to integrate things like card swipes, RFID readers, vehicle mounting solutions, and engine data diagnostics modules. These capabilities are often built into rugged devices designed for industry rather than the consumer. In addition, the software running on the device may not be tailored to your fleet’s needs, and the cost of having specially written one-off applications can increase the TCO significantly.
Customer Satisfaction Rates
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. The following graph illustrates the replacement rate of smartphones versus rugged mobile computers.
Employee Acceptance Rates
When an employee uses their mobile computer to its full potential you get the most from your investment. Commercial computers that are prone to failure with generic software applications which are difficult to learn and not tailored to your business can cause employees to reject the new technology. Increased training time, recruiting time, and downtime result. When rugged devices are backed by fleet-focused companies they are more likely to be designed for ease-of-use in the vehicle and supported by comprehensive training.
When faced with potentially replacing 36% of your commercial devices each year it becomes important not only to consider the monetary cost but the environmental one as well. Is this replacement rate in line with your organization’s green initiative?
The annual TCO of rugged versus non-rugged devices revealed by the VDC study is shown in the chart below. The study found the five-year TCO of consumer-grade devices to be $12,631, while the TCO for a rugged device is $8,569.vii In field service applications specifically, the study found that companies using rugged units had a 17 percent savings over companies using non-rugged units.viii
Other Differences Between Rugged and Consumer Devices
While there is no industry standard definition of a consumer smartphone or tablet, they are typically small, commercial-grade, portable hand-held devices that include an operating system, software, web access, QWERTY keyboard, and messaging capability. Think the Blackberry, iPhone, or iPad. They can be GPS-enabled so you can track workers wherever they go.
Rugged mobile computers on the other hand, are typically installed in the vehicle and offer a more enhanced feature set. A larger display allows for easier viewing of work order information, and drivers can use turn-by-turn navigation displayed on the clearly visible screen (in addition to integrated voice prompts) to reach their destination. The additional computing power of rugged computers means you are able to not only handle work order management but also process vehicle telematic data, including speed, idling, RPM, and OBDII messages. Rugged mobile computers are intended for fleet use and designed for the rigors of the in-vehicle environment, standing up to extreme temperature fluctuations, vibration, shock, and dust. They typically last for more than seven years, while the life expectancy of consumer devices are significantly less.
Looking past their tough components, rugged computers also offer a host of benefits not found with commercial-grade devices, such as tablets or smart phones. This is due to the fact that rugged computers are more likely to be backed by companies that understand fleet-based industries rather than a commercial-device manufacturer who focuses on the consumer market.
A few of these benefits are outlined below:
Ease of Use
Consumer devices are light-weight and portable, but for fleet drivers, small buttons make it difficult to quickly send messages, and a small screen makes it hard to view navigational maps or easily glance at added trips and route changes without excessive scrolling. If drivers struggle with the device’s ease-of-use they are less likely to use it to its full potential.
When rugged fixed-mount computers are backed by fleet-focused companies, they are more likely to be designed for ease-of-use and supported by comprehensive training. Designed for the in-vehicle environment, they take into account limited vehicle real-estate, while still being large enough for easy viewing and data entry. Look for in-vehicle computers with larger touch screens that accommodate different lighting conditions, such as sun glare and night viewing.
Company versus Driver Control
“The effectiveness of tracking an individual normally comes down to whether they are motivated to be tracked.”x With tablets or smartphones you rely on drivers to accept the technology in order to use it to its full potential. You rely on them to charge it, turn it on, and keep it with them.
By putting the mobile computer in the vehicle, the risk of human error is minimized. When the vehicle is on, the mobile computer and GPS tracking is automatically enabled. You don’t need to rely on employees to charge the device or worry about GPS being turned off with the phone or tablet.
Additionally, rugged mobile computers only contain applications pertaining to an employee’s work unlike smartphones and tablets which can access the Internet and run other productivity-draining applications such as games, social apps or movies.
Driver and Vehicle Monitoring
Though vehicle speed monitoring is available with certain smartphone or tablet applications, in-vehicle computers let you track a wider range of vehicle information such as ignition on/off and OBDII data. OBDII data includes odometer monitoring, problem codes, fuel consumption, RPM, and oil temperatures. This enhances your ability to monitor and correct driver behaviors such as speeding and unnecessary idling, which are costly in terms of fuel and vehicle maintenance and harmful to driver safety. With more and more idling bylaws coming into place, it also reduces potential fines.
The ability to collect additional vehicle diagnostic data with a rugged in-vehicle computer means your maintenance personnel receives accurate, real-time information, including mileage and engine hours. With this data they can better manage their maintenance program by avoiding unnecessary maintenance and focusing on those vehicles that truly need service. Historical data can also assist in the event of an accident. This information simply isn’t available when tracking the employee with a consumer device.
Improved Data Security
When consumer devices are lost or stolen they put the security of company data in jeopardy. In fact, 94% of 300 IT managers surveyed at the InfoSecurity Europe 2008 exhibition, regarded smartphones as a growing security risk. While certain security measures exist, “only 30% of firms had mobile devices and smartphones covered in their security policy and a concerning 10% and 9% encrypted the devices and the files held on them respectively. Also, a worrying 44% of respondents did not employ password protection on their devices every time they used it.”xi
Being locked in place, in-vehicle devices are much harder to lose, steal or tamper with, and the data they collect is sent in real-time to head office, so it is always available. Also, the ability for managers to limit communication to canned messages ensures the driver is using the device for enterprise-specific purposes and not as a personal communication tool. Look for devices that encrypt the data. By taking these steps, the company maintains control of the device and information versus the driver having full control.
Reliable Device Power
We’ve already mentioned the need to have driver buy-in to ensure smartphone or tablet batteries are charged properly and frequently so they don’t run out of power during the work day. But, the battery needs of these portable devices, including backup batteries and in-vehicle charging stations, also adds to their cost.
In-vehicle devices are powered by the vehicle so when the vehicle turns on so does the mobile computer. Lost productivity due to the device not having enough power is eliminated.
Simplified Device Management
Managing which driver has which device and establishing a sign in/out system during shift changes increases the workload for in-office staff. When you purchase an in-vehicle computer, device management is minimized. The driver assigned to a specific vehicle will be using that vehicle’s computer.
As well, by choosing an in-vehicle device with remote programming capabilities you’ll be able to program and update the device automatically from the office. This saves considerable downtime costs.
Smartphones or tablets which offer no navigational voice prompts and have a smaller screen are difficult and dangerous to view while driving. A driver scrolling the on-screen map for directional information, text messaging, or simply making a phone call isn’t concentrating on the road.
In fact, “Dialing a cell phone while driving…makes you almost three times more likely to have an accident. Talking on the phone is only a little less dangerous. But a new study found that the collision risk increases by more than 23 times when a driver picks up a cell phone to send a text message.”xii Fleet managers whose drivers are using Smartphones or tablets have no control over how or when drivers are using them, making it very difficult to address unsafe practices. As a result, a recent survey found 32 percent of companies have knowledge or evidence of vehicle crashes that have occurred as a result of distractions stemming from employee use of cell phones while driving.xiii Even if companies have a policy in place outlining appropriate cell phone usage, they are still liable if their driver causes an accident while using their mobile device.
Look instead for in-vehicle computers that let you set parameters around their use. You can program rugged in-vehicle devices with a wide range of controls that minimize driver distraction, such as blanking the screen, suspending messaging capabilities, or only offering very limited functionality when the vehicle is in motion. Navigational voice prompts still allow drivers to hear the turn-by-turn directions without having to take their eyes off the road to look at a map.
Comprehensive Support & Upgrade Path
Because commercial-grade devices, such as smartphones or tablets, are geared towards the consumer their support programs may not account for the urgency of mission-critical enterprise situations. Choose a vendor who understands the real-time needs of industry, with 24/7 support plans and maintenance programs to match in order to minimize downtime, lost data, and lost trips.
Additionally, as commercial devices are consistently changing, and new releases often don’t collaborate with older models, organizations could find themselves having to replace their entire technology solution within a few years when new functionality is desired. Another issue with consumer devices are the constantly changing operating systems and APIs which make it difficult for business applications to remain stable. This means the software company has to frequently service the devices which can become costly. However, with rugged in-vehicle computers, new features can be seamlessly integrated and reliable manufacturers will continue to support the device even after newer versions are released.
With rugged devices the ability to integrate future technologies into your existing mobile computing infrastructure will protect your initial investment and keep your organization current. “Rugged units are typically designed to offer users an upgrade path (e.g. from one to multiple connectivity options). Because non-rugged units are primarily targeted at the consumer and white-collar markets, industry-specific upgrade paths are far less compelling.”xiv
As smartphones and tablets are made for consumer use, their limited warranties do not cover replacement if the device breaks while being used in the field. Alternatively, rugged device manufacturers specifically build their computers for use in the field and the vehicle so their warranties will cover breakage from reasonable field usage which can save an organization substantial replacement and repair costs.
Wireless Carrier Options
When smartphones or tablets are selected for mobile computing, the organization is locked into a contract with a specific wireless provider. If a change is needed, breaking these contracts before term is expensive and often results in having to purchase new hardware for the entire fleet. Rugged mobile devices can be used on any network and give organizations the ability to easily switch networks if the need arises, while protecting their hardware investment.
Additionally, rugged mobile devices can compress messages sent between the vehicle and dispatch which substantially reduces an organization’s data usage charges.
By choosing a rugged mobile device that is designed to connect to various onboard devices, such as lights, sirens, PTO, weighing systems, RFID and others, you can create a complete mobile solution without spending additional time and money on integration.
It is unlikely that generic commercial software applications designed for Smartphones or tablets take into account all the factors affecting your fleet operation, such as unique rules and regulations. The alternative is having a custom software program written for you. This option can be very costly and the price for any changes or new development falls on your shoulders. Instead, leverage the experience of 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.
When deciding between a rugged in-vehicle computer or consumer devices for your fleet workers, it’s important to look beyond the up-front cost of the devices, and instead at how the computers will integrate with your organization’s processes to help you achieve your corporate objectives.
Rugged in-vehicle computers specifically designed for fleet-based workers tie into the vehicle and back-office applications to give you reliable, secure real-time information. Durable and always-on, these computers deliver accurate vehicle location and driver behavior information. When backed by companies that understand the challenges faced by fleet-based organizations, rugged mobile computers exceed smartphones and tablets in minimizing downtime, increasing employee acceptance, improving fleet safety, and maximizing fleet efficiencies.