Updated 2/01/2013: I wrote this article nearly a year ago, and if anything it is even more relevant in 2013 than 2012.
Resellers are even more empowered now to provide solutions that complement or compete with consumer devices in the enterprise. Top selling vendors, such as Honeywell, Epson and Zebra, and many others, are all bringing out products in this arena. Many of our ISV partners are also developing for iOS and Android, completing the solution. You can find them here ISV Source.
ScanSource CTO Greg Dixon gave a presentation on the current state of mobility at our Partner Conference. You can find it here: Mobility Defined. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It would be 51 minutes well spend for anyone who sells mobility or is looking to get into the market.
It’s hard to blame an end user for wanting to use their sexy new consumer device in the Enterprise. To be honest, I don’t leave home without my smart phone and usually a tablet. I use both frequently as I go about my work day. Just as any other end user, I find both to be indispensable. However, I work in a climate-controlled office where the most pronounced danger to my phone is a three-foot drop to carpet.
End users are starting to push the envelope when it comes to where consumer devices are being used, moving into applications and environments that have traditionally been served by rugged mobile computers. To compete against this trend, it is important to understand why we are seeing this move towards using consumer devices in enterprise solutions.
- Widespread Usage: Consumer devices are very powerful mobile computers, with consumer-friendly operating systems. End users have completely integrated them into their private lives. It only makes sense for them to seek ways to use them on the job.
- Familiarity: End users are already familiar with how consumer devices work. Living day in and day out with a device provides a level of comfort and familiarity that no amount of training can replicate. (http://www.business2community.com/mobile-apps/how-angry-birds-boosts-the-roi-of-enterprise-mobility-and-spells-the-doom-of-ruggedized-devices-087148)
- Entry cost: They have a perceived lower entry cost, though it can be shown that the long-term ROI of a rugged solution will pay off for the customer.
- Environment: Not all mobility solutions require the device to be rugged. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, in some cases, the consumer device is an acceptable fit.
- App development: There are many developers of apps for iOS and Android. Contrary to popular belief, iOS developers can push out an app to a specific customer without having to go through Apple’s AppStore.
- Consumerization has grown the market: Consumer devices are making the biggest inroads with customers who, because of their size or the higher entry cost for rugged devices, have not traditionally been mobility customers. In this case, they are not a lost sale but an opportunity for future business.
- Aesthetics: Not to be overlooked, consumer devices can be cool and flashy, and that can’t be underestimated, especially when the device is going to be customer facing.
How to Compete
It’s easy to see why end users become so enraptured with their consumer device that they push these devices into a solution where they are simply the wrong decision. Just adding a rubberized case does not make your phone a rugged device. This is where it is important that we help our customers understand the available solutions that best fit their needs. How do you convince an end user that sometimes the rugged device is really the only solution to their problem?
- Business integration: Just because there are many iOS and Android developers, do they have the knowledge and experience to provide a complete, integrated mobility solution. They may be brilliant developers but have they ever created a mobile inventory app and then integrated it with the customer’s ERP?
- Life cycle expectancy: A two-year refresh rate is common for consumer devices, but enterprises have traditionally looked at five to seven years. What does a quick refresh cycle do to the overall ROI of the solution?
- Operating environments: Adding a case helps with the drop specifications but does nothing for environmental sealing. According to Zebra, the primary cause of failure for units they service is not from being dropped but exposure to the elements. This is where having an IP rating is so important. While being sealed against windblown dust and rain is standard on rugged devices, very few consumer devices are sealed at all.
- Temperature ranges are very limited in Consumer Devices: The iPhone has an operating temperature of 32F – 95F (0C – 35C). The first rugged mobile computer I looked up had a range of -4F to 122F (-20C – 50C) with an optional heating unit that took it down to -22F (-30C). If the device is going to be outdoors (or any other challenging environment) it is a difference that cannot be underestimated.
- Consistency: Android has a new flavor every few months and even iOS’s yearly update leaves one to question if the solution developed today will still be viable in a few years.
Finally, a customer’s decision to use a consumer product does not have to be a lost opportunity. For example, when Lowe’s purchased 42,000 iPhones they also purchased 42,000 cases that added an extended life battery and true barcode scanner. There are a wide range of peripherals available, from manufacturers you recognize, to add additional functionality to a consumer device and allow you to maintain your position as a trusted advisor to your customer.
- Honeywell, Verifone, Ingenico, Mag-Tec, ID-Tech, Zebra, APG Cash Drawer are all making accessories or providing APIs to add functionality to iOS devices, and I am sure this list will continue to grow.