Mobile devices at work – a more sustainable approach

Mobile devices at work – a more sustainable approach

Mobile devices put access to IT right into the hands of people while they are out and about performing their work tasks. For many this is not just about ‘being in touch’ or getting access to useful data. IT tasks performed using the mobile device are critical to the business process.

These tasks could include a courier getting delivery jobs or the recipient’s signature or a railway guard checking and selling tickets. It might involve an engineer in the field performing maintenance, identifying failure and scheduling spare parts. Or it might be a retail worker checking stock and inventory. In each case, the mobile worker is reliant on the technology.

Once, these tasks would have involved pen, paper, forms and considerable delays. Now the transactions are instantaneous, with paper mainly being replaced by scanners, sensors and code readers. Physical output will only sometimes be necessary for part of a service interaction or those requiring a receipt. This means that all elements of hardware, software and network connection, are important to continuity of service of the business process.

Is consumer mobile technology sufficiently up to the task?

Not all situations are hazardous, but some, outdoor workplaces such as building sites or damp and dusty locations, will be. Others will involve open interaction in public places on transport, in shops, or over large campuses with indoor and outdoor spaces like hospitals, universities and factories. Most working locations can be unpredictable and unforgiving if devices are mishandled.  For many of these working environments, consumer mobile technology is not sufficiently durable. Failure of any single element of the system causes downtime, aborted processes and user frustration.

Individuals will have a connection to mobile devices of their own and (probably) take a little more care with them. Workplace devices are a different matter. Many workers will have other things to consider. They may be working outside or in cold situations where they need gloves. It might not always be possible to pay complete attention to looking after the device. It’s not that employees are being careless, but their primary focus needs to be the task, not device, in hand. The device needs to be sufficiently durable to take care of itself.

The research in Quocirca’s report, “All mobile, still working, becoming sustainable”, covers the adoption of sustainable mobile device strategies. It shows life expectancy is one of the top three buying criteria, after product cost and cost of ownership, for mobile devices. However, too much attention to upfront device cost savings by using cheaper or consumer devices risks introducing increased costs over a longer period. Even the oft-used wider perspective of total cost of ownership risks ignoring consequent cost increases for the business process.

Sustainable mobile device strategy

This is where a sustainable mobile device strategy will be beneficial, not only for the environment, but also for its cost impact on the business. This comes from a mix of hard costs and soft costs, since mobile devices themselves are part of a broader ecosystem. In many mobile use cases in logistics, retail, transportation and field services there will be important ancillary components. These could include vital peripherals – scanners, printers etc. – as well as accessories – protective and carry cases, vehicle mounting points etc. These may well be affected by changing or updating broken devices.

A sustainable approach means that these elements should still be in use over several generations of the primary device. This itself should be sufficiently durable to survive longer. Devices should also be update-able and upgradeable in the field; this includes changing batteries. These simple hardware improvements extend reliable working, and avoid one of the largest soft costs – interruptions to the business process. Consumer-oriented mobile devices are rarely this flexible, robust or designed with longevity of peripheral support in mind.

More consistency and longer working with the same device means less retraining required for users and avoids frustration. Furthermore, happier users are more likely to take a little more care of the tools they have become familiar with. It is therefore better for both the environment and the bottom line to take a longer look at the use of mobile devices over the entire business process, rather than simply trying to make an upfront saving on device cost. These approaches towards a more sustainable mobile device strategy are explored further in the Quocirca report, “All mobile, still working, becoming sustainable”.

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