Mobile computers can be a game changer for field service organisations looking to employ better, smarter, more efficient business processes. When they work.

Truth be told, devices fail more often than many technology manufacturers (and their customers) will admit. Especially consumer-grade devices that, while marketed for business applications, were never designed for the energy sector’s harsher environments or enterprise applications.

At the same time, it can be easy to overestimate the performance capabilities of a well-known mobile computer brand or miscalculate the data security – or worker safety – risks posed by cost-efficient consumer grade tablets, laptops and handhelds. This is especially true when budgets are tight and sticker prices seem just right. No executive is going to fault decision makers who choose to
favour a low-cost device that seems to check all the boxes. Until the solution fails to meet performance, security and/or safety expectations.

Then the total cost of ownership (TCO) skyrockets and those savings turn into losses very quickly. The financial implications of even a single failing mobile device far surpass any benefit you may receive from securing a lower sticker price or forgoing the extended warranty option.

Just ask these two multi-billion-dollar companies:

Enterprise A

This multinational organisation is known for its customer service excellence. It consistently ranks at the top of consumer surveys and has prioritised workforce mobility over the past decade.

As a technology innovator, this company decided to leverage the advantages of Android mobility within many installation and maintenance divisions, and opted to deploy Motorola Droid Xyboard tablets to 13,000 of its field-based workers – even though they expected and planned for a 14 per cent device failure rate at the time of purchase.

Unfortunately, the actual failure rate was 25 per cent in the second year, and between 35-50 per cent for most divisions in the third year. Clearly, the 1820 spare Xyboard units they budgeted for were not enough to replace the actual number of devices that went offline. The average $50 cost to repair each fixable device was just the beginning of the total costs (i.e. losses) incurred while the
tablets and, therefore, workers were offline.

Technicians were unable to provide full-service support to customers in a timely manner, logistics became challenging to manage, and workers at this forward-looking company had to revert to paper-based business processes of the past until devices were replaced or repaired. The company quickly started replacing these devices with rugged Android tablets that have proven far more reliable over a much longer period of time.

Enterprise B

This globally-known brand has hundreds of thousands of mobile workers deployed in the field every day for the installation and management of its infrastructure and services. They understand the need for rugged mobile computers and have invested in them heavily over the last decade.

However, pressure to accommodate the technology expectations of a younger workforce led this organisation to purchase 80,000 iPhones and 100,000 iPads along with cases they hoped would replicate the level of protection offered by inherently rugged mobile computers.

In 2017, 22,000 of their 180,000 installed Apple mobile devices failed. In just one year, 12 per cent of their workforce was taken offline for some period of time. Unable to operate at peak performance, field technicians were forced to improvise as best as possible to fulfill their daily obligations, and large volumes of customers ultimately suffered due to the service delays or limited service capabilities that occurred during the devices’ downtime.

This company, too, decided that it was too disruptive to utilise a disruptive mobility model and quickly standardised multiple divisions on rugged tablet computers (for a much lower TCO).

Success is built on failure 

Both companies were forced to re-evaluate the tangible versus intangible costs of mobility, as well as the value they put on the uptime of their workers long-term versus the value of a lower sticker price right now. Their initial justification to use a non-rugged, off-the-shelf tablet versus a truly rugged, enterprise-grade mobile computer was quickly invalidated. It became clear that the perceived savings and simplicity of consumer-grade devices were misperceptions.

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