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Consumer Grade vs. Enterprise Class Devices in the Warehouse


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It’s something we talk to Insight Works customers about all the time: Can a consumer grade phone be used as a mobile computer in a warehouse environment? Essentially, it comes down to a question of whether a company needs ruggedly-made devices or more garden variety types, based on the kind of work environment being taken into consideration. This consumer-versus-enterprise argument has endured for years but hasn’t been conclusively resolved, and there are two reasons for this – first, the line between consumer and more industrial grade devices has blurred, and, perhaps more importantly, the right choice depends heavily on each organization’s specific work processes, the aforementioned usage environment, preferences and budget.

If you work in a warehouse environment or represent an organization in this sector, the most important factors you should take into consideration here include:

  • The environment(s) the devices will be used in
  • The processes they will be used for
  • The length of time they will remain in service
  • How much maintenance and downtime are deemed acceptable
  • How much mobile workers depend on their devices to do their jobs

The bottom line? You can make the right choice by deciding which differences between enterprise and consumer devices are most important in your particular work environment.

Can You Use Your Consumer Grade Phone as a Mobile Computer?

In touching on something we brought up in the beginning of this post, you must first ask yourself…do I constantly drop my phone? Drops are the leading cause of damage to mobile computers in general, resulting in downtime and lost productivity; when considering your work environment, you’ll get a greater sense of the devices’ exposure to risk.

Putting it in a simpler context, a handheld device – such as a mobile phone – that will land on a nice carpeted floor of an office when dropped doesn’t need to be quite as rugged as one that will land on concrete. Similarly, if devices will be used outdoors, the screen should remain visible in bright sunlight; to this end, environmental resistance and ratings are also important considerations if the devices will be exposed to rain, snow, dirt, dust, chemicals or other hazards in the field.

The other “frustrating” issue comes into play when using a mobile phone’s camera as a barcode scanner. The scanning device on a purpose made scanner uses a scan engine, not a camera. This means scanning speeds can be much quicker and accurate. Scanning can also often be done off-axis. Depending on the device, scanning distances can range from a few inches to over 70 feet. Scanning with a mobile phone compared to a purpose-made device is like accessing the internet with a dial-up 14.4 baud modem vs fiber optic.

Insight Works Pro Tip: It is worth noting that just because a device may be “IP rated” and supposedly able to withstand the aforementioned elements affecting its operation, it is not necessarily “rugged.” What’s more, a non-rugged device is unlikely to preserve its IP rating if dropped.

The way we see it, deploying consumer grade devices in the warehouse will ultimately result in much higher replacement costs in addition to extensive downtime and lost productivity, while using “ruggedized” enterprise level devices will provide a lower TCO and higher ROI (return on investment).

Beyond the durability factor, the following should be taken into account:

  • Device Management – While some consumer devices support solutions such as robust mobile device management (MDM), many phones and tablets do not, or they include security features that make it difficult to centrally provision certain applications; enterprise level devices encompass support for most MDM solutions and traditional IT provisioning/management approaches.
  • Enterprise Application Requirements – Most consumer devices like phones can’t handle the requirements of high-volume, enterprise grade warehouse applications, while more rugged devices have faster, more accurate barcode scanners, longer battery life and more.
  • Security – More rugged devices provide enhanced security features to allow lockdown of applications so users only access what they need to.
  • Safety – Consumer grade devices are often not permitted anywhere near hazardous areas, such as those dealing with volatile chemicals.
  • Consistency – It is challenging to provide a consistent set of hardware and software across all devices in an environment for extended periods of time, what with new versions of consumer phones and operating system updates occurring frequently.
  • Total Cost of Ownership – Consumer devices may require separate peripherals for barcode scanning or protective cases to improve durability, adding to the overall TCO.

As leaders in taking warehouse operations to the next level through cutting-edge products and apps, Insight Works can answer any questions you may have about rugged-versus-consumer devices.

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