From The Editor | June 20, 2007

Justify Ruggedness

Rugged mobile computers are more expensive than commercial-grade products. Over time, however, the rugged devices may actually cost you less money.

Integrated Solutions, July 2007

In a recent column I noted that Integrated Solutions magazine celebrated its 10th anniversary. In that very first issue, we covered the topic of wireless data collection. Specifically, we wrote about wireless devices that allowed for maximum mobility, but were also rugged enough in design to survive the environments in which they were deployed. I say, 'survive,' but compared to other wireless devices available, the optimum descriptive word would be 'thrive.' At the time, these devices were deployed in manufacturing and warehouse settings and taking advantage of WiFi technology that was fairly new to the market.

At the time, the advantages of these mobile devices were their ruggedness — an ability to stand up to almost anything — and near constant uptime. The devices were more expensive; there was no question about that. But, end users understood the premium they paid was worth it.

Ten years later, enterprises have mobile computing options that are generations removed from those a decade back. And, some of those computing options are rugged in design. How much further have these devices progressed in 10 years? Well, you can find several vendors that will supply you with mobile devices that have integrated WiFi, WWAN (wireless WAN), and Bluetooth connectivity; integrated GPS (global positioning system) technology, data collection capabilities, color screens, and keypad or touchpad input options; and robust mobile operating systems. By the way, you can also drop the devices on concrete repeatedly and use them in the rain. Rugged mobile technology has come a long way in a decade, but end users continue to struggle with the higher cost of these devices over their commercial-grade counterparts. The technology has progressed further than end user opinions.

Enterprises wrestle over the increased cost of rugged computing devices. Intuitively, they must know that deploying commercial-grade laptops in field service applications, for instance, will lead to increased downtime and support issues. And, in fact, it does. The most recent research by VDC (Venture Development Corp.) goes a long way toward alleviating the sticker shock that many enterprises feel as they compare price tags of rugged and nonrugged computers. Over a five-year period, VDC's research finds that despite the disparity in price tags, the TCO (total cost of ownership) of rugged laptops and PDAs is significantly less than commercial-grade units. According to VDC, the annual failure rate for commercial-grade laptops is about 30%, while rugged laptops experience an annual failure rate of just 9%. Additionally, there's a big difference in wireless connectivity between the two types of units, with research finding that wireless transmission failures are three times more frequent in nonrugged devices. This leads to downtime and employee frustration.

In the center of this month's issue of Integrated Solutions, you'll find a high-level overview of VDC's research on the TCO of rugged computing platforms. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to anyone at your company faced with the prospect of deploying mobile computers in the field. No one is advocating rugged units for every application. But, it is certainly prudent to conduct a TCO analysis of rugged and nonrugged units before making a purchase decision. You might find that the heavier investment you make up front will come back to you many times over.