Pay now and save later or run the risk with your business mobile devices. By Jan Kaempfer

There can be no doubt that the introduction of mobile technology is driving huge productivity gains for mobile workers and their employers as first the use of notebooks, and now tablets and handhelds extends across many different industries. But the cost of this mobile revolution is, in many cases, proving far higher than it need be – denting the budgets of IT decision makers and ultimately impacting on their employer’s profits.

The failure rates of these mobile devices and the costs of repair and regular replacement is now becoming clear as these mobile devices are used by a wider range of workers in increasingly different work environments. From emergency services attending 999 call-outs, to delivery firms and couriers, manufacturers on the production line, retailers and the hospitality industry taking orders on the move; all these industries are exploiting the benefits of technology in the hands of their mobile workforce.

To fully understand the costs of notebook, tablet, and handheld device damage to business, renowned analyst firm IDC carried out a study of IT decision-makers from 800 organisations, across a broad range of vertical industries.

The cost of failure rates
An average of about 18 per cent of a company’s notebooks require repair of some kind during a year. The majority of these repairs are due to accidental damage. The numbers are slightly lower for tablets and handheld devices, but they are still material. While 11.5 per cent of these devices are likely to fail the first year, by year five, the likelihood of failure nearly doubles to 21.3 per cent and after five years the numbers rise evermore, resulting in 85 per cent of the fleet requiring to be sent for repair.

The components most often damaged in notebooks is the screen, followed by the keyboard and then the storage drive. For tablets, it was also the screen, followed by ports or connectors and then the outer chassis. For handhelds, it was the screen, the battery, and the outer chassis.

The top three ways that devices are damaged is dropping, liquid spills and falling from the desk.

But more important to the business than damage is the resulting cost of lost productivity, employee frustration and potential for lost data. IDC estimates that on average, workers lost about 5.8 working hours for notebook repairs, 4.2 hours for tablet repairs, and 6.0 hours for smartphone repairs — so at best, half a working day; at worst, three-quarters of a working day. On the financial side, the average cost associated with a notebook repair is £2626, a tablet is £1895, and a handheld device is £2376.

The rugged factor
As companies look at ways to address the issue of repairs, it’s important to understand that not all devices are created equally. Broadly, there are often differences between traditional and commercial notebooks, tablets, and handheld devices. Beyond the normal commercial versus consumer distinction, however, is another level of products known as ruggedised.

Rugged systems are notebooks, tablets, and handheld devices built to comply with military and Ingress Protection standards. These standards incorporate specific testing parameters for durability, endurance, and strength and protection against dust and water respectively. While such specifications are a handy benchmark, they tell only part of the story as truly rugged devices must also be highly usable in the conditions where employees need to use them. This includes displays that are highly viewable in bright sunlight, swappable batteries that ensure a device is always powered when needed, and rugged ports and connectors that don’t wear out over time.

The question of Return on Investment (ROI)
With regular business mobile devices reporting annual failure rates in the high teens compared with rugged devices, such as Panasonic’s Toughbook and Toughpad notebooks, tablets and handhelds, which report annual failure rates of seven times less than the average, there is clearly a question of return on investment for businesses to consider.

Even though rugged devices are more expensive at purchase, IDC found that with annual failure rates and average per incident repair costs the ROI for the rugged device is reached within the second year – well within the two-year and eight-month average PC refresh cycle for most businesses using non-rugged devices.

The return was even better for tablet devices, with rugged tablets achieving their return on investment within the first year. For handheld devices, rugged ROI was achieved after the first year.

So, the conclusion? Rugged devices may cost more to purchase, but based on the amount of money saved in terms of employee downtime, IT employee time, and related costs, the investment in a high-quality rugged device can pay dividends for years.

If these benefits are combined with the design advantages of using purpose built mobiles devices for business, such as hot swappable batteries, a wide range of business ports for connectivity and a wider eco-system of multi-generational peripherals, vehicle mounts and docking stations, then the business case becomes unarguable.

So why hasn’t everyone deployed rugged devices already? Well, many are, but the challenge is in convincing IT decision makers to pay now, in order to save later. Due to the superior design and investment in protection and durability, rugged devices often cost more than a traditional notebook or laptop but as the evidence quite clearly shows, the return on investment quickly pays-off. IT organisations looking to maximise their hardware investments could do well to take a long hard look at rugged devices the next time a hardware refresh is in order.

Jan Kaempfer
Jan Kaempfer is General Manager for Marketing for Panasonic Computer Product Solutions. Panasonic Toughbook is a leading supplier of business ruggedised laptops and tablets. The devices are resistant to demanding environments and are designed to withstand the rigours of mobile workforces. The devices provide access to applications and data in the most challenging mobile environments, resulting in solutions that transform people’s working lives and their operational efficiency.