Rough and rugged

01 Apr 11

Analysts predict that 35% of the global workforce will be mobile by 2013. This number is made up of a growing number of workers who, thanks to new technologies, are choosing to work from home, a client’s site or on the road.
Others set to benefit from technological advances include those traditionally deployed in the field – such as linesmen, maintenance workers, police or couriers – who now no longer have to return to the office to collect assignments, prepare and/or log reports.
While we constantly hear about the growing popularity of mobile devices and the spread of paper-less solutions in business settings, what we haven’t heard as much about is the increasing uptake of this technology in blue-collar environments. The potential benefits enterprise-grade mobile computing offers to businesses in terms of productivity improvements, increased efficiency, reduced cost and marketing opportunities make this a hidden growth story.
The introduction of mobile phones, and now smart phones and tablets, has been a boon to many workers and has created tremendous opportunities for new revenue streams and work practices. Yet these devices can be expensive to maintain and many have short lifecycles.
While many businesses might give their sales and marketing staff a consumer tablet device, these aren’t quite robust enough to withstand the knocks and bumps they might encounter on a building site, a shipyard or on the factory floor.
As an executive who travels frequently, I too am heavily reliant on mobile devices which permit me to talk, email and video call colleagues, friends and family anytime and anywhere. But I am a worker who spends my day in the office, car or plane. These smart devices – and the networks that support them – wouldn’t cut it in tougher, business-critical environments, offering resellers new, large growth opportunities.
In our increasingly mobile age, companies are finding it necessary to deploy workforces and have them remain connected to their corporate systems. Whether logging patient information, retrieving delivery and billing information for a customer, or managing logistics within a warehouse, businesses are increasingly requiring business-critical wireless solutions that rely on highly reliable, purpose-built devices and networks.
One of our New Zealand customers, Mainfreight, is one such example of a company that’s turned to ruggedised handheld devices. A global logistics provider, and New Zealand’s leading supply chain manager, Mainfreight was looking for a solution to replace manual recordings of freight arrivals – a labour intensive process, open to human error – and enable workers on site to stay in contact with each other.
In collaboration with our partner Gen-i, we installed a network of durable handheld devices, allowing workers on the dock to scan freight as it arrives and departs, making a process, which used to take half a day, instant.
Mainfreight also deployed a wireless LAN solution that supports a custom VoIP solution, utilising multi-function mobile devices to enable worker communication across the site. These devices also have GPS tracking, which enables Mainfreight to easily coordinate job pick up times across its fleet, which can see hundreds of drivers on the road at any one time.
AE Smith is another such company that has turned to rugged mobile devices for its field workforce. The largest privately owned mechanical services contractor in Australia provides maintenance services for all types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
With a team of more than 135 technicians, the company has deployed mobile computers to replace paperwork as a means of making technicians’ jobs easier and attracting skilled professionals to the workforce.
Examples like the above, and forecasted continued uptake of mobile technologies show there is no longer a ‘place’ in the workplace and mobile workers will increasingly become the rule, not the exception.
The physical location of workers has become less important than providing them with the tools and connectivity necessary to be productive anywhere and anytime. Workers are using mobile technologies and web-based applications in their personal lives and expect the same level of instant access to suppliers and information in their professional lives.
Businesses also continue to be driven by competition and if resellers can help their customers find "it”, log "it” or deliver "it” faster than the next company, this can provide an important edge in an increasingly ‘I expect it now’ culture.
The challenge for resellers and systems integrators will be to educate on the need for rugged and reliable, purpose-built handheld devices and networks that can best support their businesses in the moments that matter

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