Counting the total cost of ownership

When making IT investments it is easy to calculate the purchase price of the hardware and any license fees, but basing a purchase decision on this alone can quickly prove a false economy. When evaluating a mobile workforce automation project, conducting a complete total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis will show the hidden costs inherent in selecting a low-cost, non-enterprise class device.

Businesses that use low-cost non-rugged mobile computers pay a high price in repairs, increased support needs and lost productivity. According to a 2004 study by Venture Development Corporation (VDC), these costs exceed any purchase price savings within just two years. Over the life of the system, down time typically costs users of non-rugged computers approximately four to five times more than the purchase price of the devices.

Value for money
In just two years, ruggedised mobile computers provide a total cost of ownership advantage over consumer-grade devices that offsets the implementation cost difference, according to VDC. Durability is a big reason for this. After two years, 35 per cent of consumer-grade devices are replaced compared to only two per cent of ruggedised. After year three, 80 per cent of the original consumer devices had been replaced, but ruggedised devices can be expected to last reliably for five years.

Downtime costs non-rugged users approximately four to five times more than the purchase price over the life of the system, according to the VDC research. VDC also found that users of consumer-grade mobile computers had failure rates nearly twice as high as ruggedised devices in the preceding 12 months. By considering the financial, productivity and support implications of increased downtime, you can make device decisions that will lower the total cost of ownership.

When the going gets tough
For workers who operate in extreme temperature environments or humid or dusty conditions, inadequate seals on consumer devices can cause condensation on electronics or other damage to internal components. IP and NEMA ratings denote that the computer has been certified to withstand potentially harmful conditions, such as liquid, electrostatic discharge, moisture or dust that could impair performance. Intrinsically safe models provide additional protection against hazards related to combustible or explosive dusts or gases. Drop-test ratings provide an indication of how the computer will perform after being dropped.

Ruggedised computers are available with a variety of keyboard and screen configurations, to best meet the data entry and presentation needs of mobile workers and handle the high volume of repetitive entries, both on screen (e.g. signatures) and keypad (e.g. enter buttons). This is a notable difference from the one-size-fits-all PDA approach.

Connectivity choices
The ability to support multiple forms of wireless communication without switching wireless cards is also a valuable feature. Some mobile computers, like Intermecs Color 700 can simultaneously support Bluetooth, 802.11b-standard wireless LAN, and wide-area wireless network communication. Users never have to take time to swap radios, or risk being out of coverage because the proper radio is not inserted in the computer. Adding wireless communications to a mobile computer can also enable organisations to eliminate separate pagers or mobile phones, which can provide savings by eliminating entire categories of devices and their associated wireless subscription fees. A wireless LAN connection enables the computer to be used for voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony, while a wide-area wireless connection enables mobile phone, text messaging and similar services.

By using devices and applications purpose-built for specific enterprise operations, rather than PDAs and their small-screen versions of desktop software, organisations benefit from improved ease of use, reduced training and support requirements, and optimised device management. For example, applications can be locked down so that mobile workers can only access the screens and features necessary for their job function, which prevents crashes and potential data loss.

Supporting and securing
The cost to support and secure mobile and wireless devices escalates each time a device needs attention, whether it be for a software version update, device reconfiguration or to upgrade firmware. IT labour, diagnosis and training costs, plus the users time lost to docking a device or handing it over to sit in the IT department can add up to a significant number of hours of wasted employee time. The user may be left without a device until the IT administrator can perform the necessary upgrades, further increasing the cost of non-working devices.

Hands-on maintenance becomes even pricier when companies support devices at multiple locations, such as branch offices. Mobile device management software addresses all of these issues, allowing IT staff to manage devices remotely through the companys wireless LAN at any time of the day or night from a central console. That means the devices stay in action, with no support or maintenance handoff s at the end of the day, no downtime due to installations or upgrades. The software also allows managers to check the health of all the companys devices and deploy specific settings for a host of popular mobile computers and operating systems.

Simply put device management software cuts labour costs and boosts productivity by freeing IT staff to do their work without the time, effort and cost required for physical contact with the devices they manage. It reduces total cost of ownership substantially.


Stuart Scott is Director of Marketing & Business Development, Intermec Technologies. He manages marketing communications, product marketing, business development and training programmes within the Europe, Middle East and Africa territory. Another of his key responsibilities includes building Intermecs alliance programmes to develop the supply chain specialists expanding network of global business partners. He has also been instrumental in positioning Intermec as an emerging leader in radio frequency identification (RFID). His extensive background in the technology industry gives him a keen understanding of IT trends and customer needs, which he puts toward long term business development in core vertical marketsmanufacturing, transportation, retail and consumer goods.

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