The Disposable Society

Consumer Devices in the Enterprise


A tactile, physically responsive keyboard demonstrates an intrinsic advantage compared to virtual ’in-screen’ keyboards in industrial work environments. When I was a kid, my parents had a great, big console TV… one of those old glass tube types (CRT) mounted in a huge wooden enclosure, with big speakers on each side that were covered with that sparkly, gold fabric, and two mechanical channel changers… one for channels 2 through 13 and one for the “UHF” channels that never really quite tuned in right. This thing was more than just the family TV. It was a piece of fine furniture. My mom would set flower arrangements on it, flanked by candles on each side with each one carefully placed on a doily. At Christmas time the flowers went away and the nativity scene took its place. That TV was almost a member of the family. They had that thing for years and in fact it was still there when I left home.

Fast forward 30 years and that old console TV is long gone, instead replaced by a 60″ flat screen TV and several other flat screen TVs deployed in various rooms around the house. These days the TVs get rotated fairly often, as do the cell phones, the appliances and even the furniture. Everything seems to get rotated much more frequently now than they did when I was a child.

People rarely buy anything with the intent of keeping it for years much less decades

We have become such a disposable society. People rarely buy anything with the intent of keeping it for years much less decades. We lease cars for three years, sign cell phone contracts for three years and buy most products with very low expectations of their useful life. If it quits or we want something different we just go buy a new one.

This short-sided “disposable” mentality is creeping into the commercial world as some businesses attempt to deploy and utilize consumer grade devices, like smart phones and tablets, in their enterprise environments. The attitude is that these devices are cheap, readily available, and their workers know how to use them. Companies selling consumer devices into enterprise applications are only too quick to push the “cheap and now” philosophy, but they are doing their customers a disservice by not laying out the entire picture.

There are several “realities” that have to be taken into consideration by the commercial buyer if they are going to conduct their due diligence and make a decision based on what’s best long term for their company. Some of these realities are obvious, such as the fact that consumer grade devices are less durable and often have to be fitted with or mated to accessory devices in order to give them the full functionality they need for the commercial application. But let’s look at it from a higher level, a broader perspective.

The question is; does a company want to go through this ordeal once every 2 or 3 years, or once every 10 or 12 years?

What is the cost associated with deploying a new solution into an enterprise environment, especially a hardware solution? The acquisition cost is obvious, but the hardware almost certainly has to be configured, maybe loaded with software, deployed to various locations, instructions developed and written, and training conducted. There has to be a plan developed and mechanisms in place to handle units that fail, get them sent to a depot, and get replacement units back to the user.

A person dissatisfied with a damaged consumer device.

There are lots and lots of moving parts that require a substantial amount of both human and monetary resources. The question is; does a company want to go through this ordeal once every 2 or 3 years, or once every 10 or 12 years? The fact is that consumer grade devices simply aren’t designed to have the same useful life span as a commercial grade device and when it comes time to replace those consumer grade devices, the models change so often that the probability of being able to buy the exact same device is almost nil. What does that mean? Software changes maybe? Accessories that no longer work? Having to support multiple models? Yes to all of the above.

electronic waste is the fastest growing waste classification
in the world

Here’s another aspect that is rarely thought of or discussed. Two decades ago, electronic waste disposal wasn’t a term that people were familiar with. Today it’s a booming business. Companies pay waste disposal companies to haul off and recycle (hopefully) all of their old servers, computers, monitors, printers… anything electronic. At the very least there’s a financial cost to this, not to mention the fact the electronic waste is the fastest growing waste classification in the world and reasonable companies should be making efforts to minimize their contribution to this growing problem.

The bottom line is that companies should be looking at the long-term big picture and taking into consideration every aspect of the decision and asking the most important question “How soon do we want to be doing this again?” If he decision is made to deploy consumer grade devices into a commercial environment, prepare to be going through the process again a lot sooner than planned, spending more money than expected. Choose wisely.

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