Companies in the construction sector are continuing to expand their digital footprint and providing increased mobile capabilities to their contractors and workers. The trend encompasses slim and lightweight devices that can perform in a range of challenging environments from office work to harsh environments that require ruggedized tools. These new form factors represent a shift away from a proprietary Operating System (OS), a key feature in the ongoing evolution of enterprise handhelds. They’re part of a growing transition toward enterprise purpose-built devices for construction workers that provide increased power, versatility, and reliability within a more ergonomic profile.
These newer models also enable improved IT control through Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms. In the past, Windows CE and Windows Mobile were relatively unsecured OSes and much of the ruggedized handheld market conformed to these specs. The transition away from proprietary toward an open OS is due to diverse factors. They include: the pervasiveness of the Android, Windows 10 Mobile, and Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld OS; a greater reliance on mobile apps across all business sectors, and key device improvements.
Moreover, the current design aesthetic comes directly from the consumer space and is based on user demand for a handheld experience that’s robust while more familiar, and easier to operate. Think lighter, more ergonomic. For example, a key difference between the older handheld device push-button interfaces and these newer handhelds is the on-screen keyboard.
With this new enterprise handheld design, contractors don’t require significant training on its use, because they can rely on their own personal smartphone experience. From a workforce perspective, the newer enterprise purpose-built form factors available offer increased power (Quad-core CPUs), glove-enabled functionality, and daylight-readable screens that are fully operational in inclement weather, as well as exceptional wireless connectivity to deliver secure, anytime/anywhere data access while on the construction site. These devices also allow contractors to securely order parts, supplies, and more amidst all jobsite conditions including moisture, extreme temperature, and dust.
The adoption of a more powerful CPU is partly due to an increase in responsibilities for contractors to be on-site, while still staying productive and efficient. They’re remotely gathering, processing, accessing, and sharing more data than ever before. They’re also interacting with clients and regularly transferring critical data in real time.
For example, contractors seeking to properly measure, record, and share data such as surface elevation on a construction site can use a variety of tools and software available in a rugged tablet to properly survey in a fraction of the time. When compared to using survey equipment to stake out and measure the terrain’s elevation and incline, the benefits are immediate with rugged tablets.
One of the goals of Internet of Things (IoT) data collection is to provide near real-time visibility and insights to improve responsiveness and construction operations. Ultra-mobile devices can increase collaboration between contractors with team members on and off the worksite, providing instant access to blueprints, contracts, schematics, and other vital documents as activities are occurring. Real-time project updates help ensure timelines are met and clients can remain informed of project milestones or delays. Contractors prefer certain rugged tablets have integrated features, such as a barcode scanner, RFID reader, GPS, camera, and mobile broadband that provide data and image capture in the field for quick action. Through IoT, all data can be transmitted to update central operations and anticipate and plan for future site visits, as well.
MEETING REAL-WORLD CHALLENGES
For IT, the new enterprise purpose-built handheld tablet form factors can eliminate the backend complications associated with proprietary OSes and the added costs of servicing inadequately designed devices that aren’t meeting enterprise professionals’ user needs. The evolution to an open OS and an enterprise handheld tablet form factor translates to increased IT agility and responsiveness for handling IT tasks, such as application updates, patches, remote security, and robust Mobile Device Management (MDM) to improve overall efficiency.
While the consumerization of IT represents a significant trend, the new mobile technology deployment story remains the same: IT departments desire well-designed, purpose-built devices that are durable and reliable. This can be essential when working on a jobsite, given the downtime caused by consumer tablets not holding up in harsh environments.
Any increase in downtime can lead to both construction delays and a loss of ROI/revenue. Ultimately, the more time IT staff spend managing and fixing broken devices, the less time they have to enact other technologies and improve a company’s bottom-line performance.
For example, when contractors need to head out to a construction site to take photos in inclement weather, consumer tablets can’t stand up to the job. They aren’t built to withstand the rigors of professional use while enterprise grade devices can harness the capabilities of Ultra High Definition or 4K resolutions and produce, a large, professional-quality display on a device that is still portable and mobile. With contractors needing to pull up a large amount of data, larger tablets are preferred where more content is displayed on a screen.
Finally, line-of-business decision makers in construction desire a beneficial ROI and want their devices to remain viable over a longer period of time. They understand that the initial investment for enterprise handhelds can be significant. However, the considerable processing power and increased functionality means more well-equipped contractors in the field, reduced IT servicing, and longer device lifespans. Contractors can bring up floor plans, structural drawings, and progress charts from anywhere while still overseeing on-site operations rather than from an office.
The need for durable, environmentally resilient, and powerful mobility has heralded the advance of new standards. The construction workforce operating in today’s demanding physical environments expect the levels of mobile functionality, access, and response characteristic of their own personal devices. Combining a consumer-inspired smartphone design with business process requirements represents the next stage in rugged construction technology evolution. ■
About the Author: Jim Dempsey is an enterprise business development manager with Panasonic Mobility. He can be reached at .
Modern Contractor Solutions – June 2016
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