Consumer Grade Devices? Don’t sip the kool-aid…

A depiction of the frustration between upper managers of a business organization which uses consumer devices in a warehourse/industrial setting.There’s a lot of chatter lately about the pros and cons of using consumer grade devices (CGD’s) in commercial and industrial applications.

Specifically we’re talking about smartphones and tablets being used in places where historically we might see a purpose-built rugged device, designed to withstand the rigors of all-day, everyday use.

We see retail stores using smartphones and tablets, some even encouraging their employees to bring their own smartphone and use it in place of a company-issued device.

We also see warehouses and manufacturing plants using smartphones installed in “sleds” to add functionality such as barcode scanning and extended battery life, or some even mounting consumer-grade tablets on forklifts.

Of course the argument, and it’s a strong one, is that consumer-grade devices are so cheap that you can buy two or more of them, for the price of a single rugged device. So, on the surface it makes sense as long as those two or three consumer-grade devices outlast what might have been the life of that rugged device… which is pure speculation, of course, because the rugged device never got purchased to compare against. But those that sip the CGD “kool-aid” focus on acquisition cost, not the cost-of-ownership, which is a huge mistake in Management 101.

The strategy is so flawed and so many of the arguments have already been made many times before:

  • What’s the cost of the down time when the CGD fails?
  • What’s the cost to configure and deploy a replacement device?
  • Can the defective CGD be repaired or is it trash?
  • What happens when the specific model of a CGD is no longer available and there is no comparable replacement?
  • What if there is a replacement, but the new model won’t fit into the “sled”?
…in today’s “throw-away” society we don’t spend much time in the “long term”
The “solution providers” pushing CGD’s might be delivering a short term solution at the expense of a long term headache, and they will have all sorts of marketing spin to dull your perception of the impact of these obvious problems, that will ultimately cost the company money.

But there is one glaring short-coming to the CGD strategy that for some reason hasn’t garnered much attention, and that’s probably because it’s a long term problem - and in today’s “throw-away” society we don’t spend much time in the “long term”. The real problem with CGD’s is that they will only get worse, and by worse we mean less and less suitable for all-day, every-day use. As consumer grade devices evolve they will only become cheaper and cheaper, both in price and in terms of durability.

Performance from a user’s perspective will go up because microprocessors will get faster and memory will get cheaper and new features will be added. However, in the consumer world there is always pressure to bring the price down, and the durability of the product will be the sacrificial lamb. But, as this will be an evolutionary process, commercial and industrial users will simply take it in stride as will the consumer. The divide between “rugged” and “consumer grade” will just continue to widen and before long those that sipped the CGD kool-aid will be costing their company huge sums of money in both direct and indirect costs.

It’s imperative to consider both acquisition costs and cost of ownership when considering mobile devices for commercial and industrial deployment. Don’t be fooled by the smoke-and-mirrors of the solution providers that don’t have to answer for why your capital expenditures are up and your efficiency is down. Don’t sip the kool-aid.

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