For today’s logistics operations, choosing hardware can be challenging. Recent advances in operating systems, networks, and devices suitable for fieldwork have the potential to significantly improve efficiency and profitability. But… they also mean more decisions to be made, more moving parts, and more complexity.
Your choice of hardware should not be made without a great deal of thought, internal discussion, and research. In addition to the initial cost, your decision will affect the operating systems, software, connectivity, services, and support your organisation runs on. Most importantly, it can affect the productivity and satisfaction levels of your workforce.
Explore operational complexity
Determining the right hardware to serve your workforce takes considerable time and thought. Unlike office-based businesses, logistics organizations are tasked with finding a hardware solution that can accommodate the needs of a wide array of roles. Some of your workers will sit behind a desk. Some will work in the warehouse. And others will be highly mobile, spending most of their time behind the wheel or in the field. In every case, the needs, duties, and the working environment will be different.
To find a hardware solution that meets the needs of managers, administrative staff, drivers, pickers, and the many other roles and responsibilities represented in your company, you’ll need to spend time exploring those needs, evaluating them, and finding the solutions that make each job easier.
In some cases, there will be synergies and areas of overlap that may allow you to deploy the same hardware within different operational areas, a strategy that can help reduce start-up and maintenance costs. In other cases, trying to fit the same device to widely differing work environments is a mistake, resulting in slow adoption rates, excess downtime, and other costly situations.
Embrace the "consumer" workplace
The success of workplace technologies depends on their similarity to consumer devices. Today, your workers are likely to own and be comfortable with a wide range of consumer technologies, including smartphones and tablets.
Consumer trends drive technology adoption at work, and systems that prioritize familiarity and ease of use—including touch-screen functionality, attractive visuals, intuitive commands, and ergonomic considerations—will see faster adoption rates and improved worker performance.
However, the durability of the solution remains a key consideration—especially in the warehouse and out in the field.
Don’t overlook configuration and integration
While workplace hardware may achieve the simplicity of consumer technologies, the same can’t be said of hardware configuration. In fact, creating seamless functionality generally requires highly complex configuration processes.
Many logistics companies make the mistake of handling configuration internally, rather than handing the process off to outside expertise, and that can be costly. When your system includes advanced functionality, such as mobile connectivity and machine-to-machine interoperability, it’s always best to leave the initial set-up to experts.
The same is true of OS integration. While operating systems for consumer devices are fairly easy to manage, your workplace may need to support and connect as many as five different platforms operating across different devices. Quality hardware components are one element of success, but the integration of hardware, software, and network components is equally critical.
Getting the mix right
While rapid advances in mobile technologies have the power to transform the logistics industry, it’s important to be realistic about what’s achievable within existing parameters.
The rugged device market continues to lag behind the mobile industry by as much as four years, which means some new technologies may not be available in the work-ready format you need. It also means you may need to patch together older and newer solutions to achieve the functionality you want. Here, too, it’s best to consult with a logistics technology expert who can see the whole picture and offer insight into the best way to pull together software, hardware, and services that leverage and extend your existing technologies in a smart, sustainable way.
Plan beyond deployment
Choosing the right hardware suite for your organization is a major decision, but it’s not the end of the journey. Ongoing services, including support and maintenance, can make or break your logistics technology system.
Many companies don’t plan or budget adequately for hardware support and maintenance, the costs of which can easily equal or exceed the initial hardware purchase costs. Your service plan should include support to help workers and IT staff resolve day-to-day issues as well as a process for backup and recovery.
Today, worker downtime is a serious and costly organizational expense, which means robust support will pay for itself many times over. According to VDC Research, mobile workers lose an average of 75 minutes each time their mobile devices fail. And as hardware becomes more affordable, the hidden costs of worker downtime have become proportionately more costly. Ten years ago, the cost of a laptop might have equalled two weeks’ salary or more: today, a worker’s device might represent a day’s earnings or less. But the cost of having that skilled worker sit idle for several hours due to device malfunction is a cost no logistics organization can afford to ignore.
Look to the future
For years, Windows Mobile has been the default OS for rugged devices. But today, hardware manufacturers are increasingly turning to Android and iOS to bring a new performance standard to warehouse and mobile operations. Greater usability, customisation, and interoperability are just a few of the advantages the new range of devices offer—if you know how to leverage them effectively.
The bottom line is that hardware options for the logistics industry are more complex today than before. If you’ve been managing your company’s hardware strategy and deployment internally, it may be time to look at pulling in an expert to ensure you’re making the best decisions, using existing resources wisely, and well placed to tap into profitable technologies in future.