Magazine Article | March 26, 2013

How To Purchase Mobile Computers Wisely

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Jerker Hellstrom CEO, Handheld Group,

You’ll have to start spending more on durable mobile computers, rather than looking for bargains, if you want to avoid losing valuable productive time.

Twenty years ago, a laptop could cost the equivalent of a month’s salary for the employee who was supposed to use it. Since then, prices of mobile computers have been slashed. Great news, isn’t it? Let us just continue to buy the cheapest computers available. They are so cheap to replace!

Not so fast. Yes, mobile computers have become much less expensive, and much more advanced, in the past decade or two. But there have also been other major changes in the workplace.

One such change is the trend toward true mobility. Smaller and better devices, better software solutions for mobile work, and increasing availability and affordability of wireless broadband have made people less confined to the traditional office environment. Traditional field workers and many white-collar workers now spend much of their time out of the office and on the go. But consumer and even commercial computers are simply too fragile to withstand mobile work, even in moderately tough environments. They might last one year or two at the most. Rugged computers, on the other hand, are more expensive, but they are built for tough environments and can last five years or more. They also have much lower failure rates, simply because they are rugged.

Another strong development has been the steady rise in wages and productivity for professional field workers. A tablet or a smartphone now costs the equivalent of maybe only a few hours’ salary for an employee. In the old days, it was important to get the best possible price for mobile devices. Today it is more important to not lose productivity. A field worker who sits idly for four hours because their computer is malfunctioning has wasted the entire cost of the computer in lost productivity. Also, everything is connected these days — one broken computer can affect the work of many people.

It all boils down to the magic of total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO includes all direct and indirect costs associated with the purchase of an asset during its entire life cycle. A TCO analysis includes the total cost of acquisition and the subsequent operating costs. Acquisition costs are quite straightforward: They include the costs for computer hardware and programs, installation and integration, and migration expenses.

TCO Analysis: Don’t Overlook Operating Expenses
Often overlooked are the subsequent operating expenses during the life span of the computers. They are usually much higher than the purchase costs and include downtime, outage and failure expenses, backup and recovery processes, and replacement costs. Downtime is the most serious, and costly, of these expenses.

Independent research firm VDC estimates that mobile workers lose an average of 75 minutes each time their mobile devices fail. In a study focused on rugged computers, VDC has performed TCO computations across four levels of computers, from nonrugged to fully rugged, across a number of common mobile applications. The total cost for each type of computer has been calculated over a fiveyear life span. The results show that using a commercial or nonrugged device will cost you about 65% more per year than using a fully rugged device. Generally speaking, TCO studies show that over a three-to-five-year period of use, the more rugged devices will carry a lower total cost of ownership, meaning that over that period they are actually cheaper than the less rugged devices, even though they are usually more expensive to purchase.

With the complexity of today’s technology configurations, the cost of deployment and downtime is high if something breaks down. The up-front cost of a piece of mobile technology pales in comparison to the potential cost of downtime and redeployment. Organizations would be well advised to start increasing the costs for their mobile devices, in the name of productivity.