Monday, February 25, 2013

How to Select a Mobile Device for Enterprise Mobility

Over the last few years consumer devices have overtaken enterprise devices in a lot of ways. Many of the features originally developed for the enterprise are now leveraged in mobile phones that we all have. Does this mean it's a no-brainer when it comes to choosing a device for an enterprise mobility project? Far from it, more choice brings more debate and more confusion. While BYOD may suit many organisations and mobile solutions it's worth looking carefully at your own situation to determine which devices are appropriate.

Obviously amongst the fields of consumer and enterprise mobile devices there is a lot of variety and the technology is changing rapidly. What does stay more or less constant is that businesses want to get value for money. I'll cover some of the key points to help you make up your own mind about what is right for your initiative. I'd suggest making a decision based on a good understanding of the current and future requirements. A good way to do this is by using a discovery, questionnaire, and/or workshop process. Try to ascertain what you can in the following areas:

Who are the mobile users?
When formulating a strategy for device selection I normally start with the user roles. For example:
  • Executives
  • Sales People
  • Customers
  • Subcontractors
  • Service Staff
  • IT personnel
  • Consumers

What will each user group do with the device?
You might find a 1:1 match between use cases and users but normally there is some cross over, so it's important to understand what will be done with the devices. Here's some examples:
  • Click through work flows
  • Create content or enter lots of text
  • Scan goods with a bar code or RFID
  • Capture a customer's signature
  • View large documents
  • Take photographs of problems
  • Search on the Internet for information
  • Use mapping or Geo location services

Where and when will they use the device?
Of course the environment may vary within a user group. This might be the time when you determine sub-groups with slightly different needs. Thinking about the following use profiles may help you determine battery life, or IP rating requirements.
  • In and around the city
  • In rural areas
  • Underground
  • In a vehicle or forklift
  • In wet areas, in the desert, in high temperatures
  • With chemicals or explosives
  • Occasional phone calls
  • All day data entry

What are the needs of the software?
You may have covered this stuff when evaluating the use cases, however its good to cross check and consider any technical requirements that you will have for the devices:
  • Particular operating system or version
  • Browser that supports HTML5
  • Anti Virus
  • Offline Database
  • Storage capacity
  • CPU type
  • Connectivity (Bluetooth, serial, usb)
  • Printing

OK that's a lot of questions but once you have a handle on these areas you can map user groups, use cases, and form factors to help identify which device styles suit your business.  Often I do that in a spread-sheet format and if necessary you can apply weighting values to certain characteristics. So out of this work you should be able to determine the base requirements list for each device. Something like the following:

What are the device requirements?
  • Screen Size
  • Input Method
  • Peripherals
  • Battery Life
  • 4G/LTE/Wifi
  • Ruggedized or not
Let's not forget the non-functional, procurement, and policy type requirements you may have in your organisation. For example:

Non Functional Requirements 
  • Vendors agreements
  • Supportability of the devices
  • Repairability / replaceability
  • Staging and building the device SOE
  • Security and IT policies

Now that you have a complete picture of the requirements you can factor in specific brands, models, and manufacturers. Around this point consideration is often given to whether a consumer device or an enterprise device is most appropriate. Remember you can always develop a policy or approval process that enables different devices to be chosen for different criteria. Here are some quick thoughts:

What are the pros and cons of enterprise and consumer devices?
  • Enterprise device model life is much longer than consumer devices
  • Enterprise devices have stable well tested components and operating system
  • Enterprise devices tend to have better support
  • Consumer devices initial purchase price is cheaper than enterprise devices
  • Consumer devices tend to be better cared for than ruggedised enterprise devices
  • Consumer devices have the latest technology (e.g. camera, CPU, OS features)

So certainly evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). If possible consider the devices as part of your overall mobility solution and use a similar time frame for the cost calculation. E.g. if your ROI is over 5 years what will the device cost over this time frame? Will additional up-front costs be offset over time with better support and stability? As usual I'm in favour of understanding the requirements and making an informed decision. For some use cases and scenarios a ruggedised enterprise device will make the most sense and for many other applications a consumer device will work just fine.

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