Construction is rough business. Constant exposure to the elements and heavy machinery make construction one of the most dynamic and sometimes dangerous work environments in the world. Working in this environment requires rugged and durable equipment – including rugged technology. Increasingly, this technology includes mobile devices. According to a recent construction industry report1, more than 80 percent of those surveyed used mobile devices for work purposes. The use of mobile technology has become ubiquitous in everyday life and in business, construction included. Mobile technology has, for the most part, succeeded in generating process efficiencies for construction companies – but it has come at a cost.
The lack of durable mobile solutions for harsh construction environments often results in damaged devices, communication interruptions and technology cost overruns. Though some rugged solutions do exist, they have historically been offered only to enterprise-level companies by specialized manufacturers at a premium expense. Until now. New rugged mobile solutions have emerged – complete with carrier subsidies – that will allow small- and mid-sized businesses to enjoy the advantages of rugged devices that perform well in the field without sacrificing the cost advantages of a traditional, carrier subsidized, sub-$200 smartphone. The democratization of rugged devices has arrived. But how did we get here?
The Evolution of the Rugged Device Industry
For an industry like construction that conducts the majority of its work away from the office, rugged technology solutions are imperative for success. Implementing on-site technology, however, has posed significant challenges. Construction sites are rough, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous environments – simply walking onto most construction sites requires wearing a hard hat. The same goes for mobile devices. The incredible technology and functionality of modern mobile devices are housed inside of lightweight and delicate hardware. As most mobile device users know, a simple clumsy drop of a smartphone can result in costly damages. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the construction industry has typically lagged in adopting technology. In fact, a 2014 study found that financial allocation for information technology was lower in the construction industry than in any other field2.
Historically, the adoption of rugged mobile technology was a luxury reserved for large enterprises with large budgets – and access to expensive rugged mobile devices offered by specialized manufacturers like Motorola, Intermec® and Honeywell. These devices – typically priced at more than $1500 each – required large investments that small- and mid-sized companies simply could not afford to make. But with digital technology evolving to the point of ubiquity, adoption of mobile technology is no longer a luxury for construction companies – it’s a necessity. Most construction companies have attempted to bridge the gap between technology and budget by moving to consumer devices like iOS- and Android-based phones. Although these consumer devices are not shock-, drop-, water- or element-proof, the devices are dramatically cheaper than their niche rugged counterparts – even when paired with external rugged cases from brands like OtterBox® or LifeProof™. The logic is simple – at less than half the cost of the traditional rugged device, a company could replace the consumer device every year and still come out ahead. Add in the fact that the majority of workers are already familiar with the operating systems and functionality of consumer devices, this strategy looks like a winner at first glance.
But there’s more to the story. While this approach has helped construction companies make the leap into the digital age with a palatable up-front investment in the short term, it remains a risky proposition in terms of long-term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). The use of consumer devices in demanding work settings leads to myriad functional issues and hidden costs that quickly erode the presumed savings. These unforeseen complexities and hidden costs include:
- Technology down-time leading to lost productivity
- Insufficient bandwidth to accommodate management and inventory software needs
- Increased IT support due to device breakage/malfunction
- Constant technology upgrade costs
According to a study by VDC Research3, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for rugged devices in business settings – which includes not only the initial investment but also subsequent costs associated with failures and breakage – is significantly lower in comparison to non-rugged devices. According to VDC’s data, annual TCO for non-rugged devices (approximately $4,000) is actually almost double that of rugged devices (approximately $2,000). And although carrier subsidies can help suppress initial purchase costs, the underlying issues remain. Put simply, the full implementation of consumer mobile devices for business does not offer a viable long-term value proposition for the modern, highly competitive construction industry.
A New Era with New Challenges
The construction industry has certainly seen its fits and starts over the last two decades, but the current climate is one of optimism. According to a study from Wells Fargo4 that surveys contractors and equipment distributors, optimism for increased industry activity remains strong.
The relative health of the construction industry, however, belies emerging challenges that will face the industry in the years to come – challenges that will require a focus on finding and exploiting efficiencies. Perhaps the most significant challenge is a continuing skilled labor shortage. As a result of the financial collapse of 2008, the construction industry lost a significant portion of its labor pool that has not returned. Coupled with a slowdown in immigration – and increasingly tight immigration regulations – the construction labor shortage will most likely continue for years to come.
Unsurprisingly, construction companies are turning to technology to fill in the gaps. Many smaller firms are moving toward Building Information Technology (BIM), a growing trend already widely used by larger firms. Technologies like BIM and cloud-based project-management software platforms are helping to create more fluid and more efficient operations. And they’re all driven and connected by mobile devices and technology.
The future of the construction industry will belong to companies that can leverage technology to realize efficiencies and cost savings. Advancements in the mobile industry will help construction companies of all sizes accelerate the adoption of technology necessary to compete in today’s environment.
An Even Playing Field
While many small- to mid-size construction companies have turned to off-the-shelf consumer mobile devices to bridge the widening technology gap separating them from their larger competitors, these devices are little more than a temporary patch. Designed for the average consumer, these devices lack the rugged design features and industry-specific functionality required for the demanding work environments in which construction companies operate, including military-grade weatherproofing and waterproofing, all-weather touchscreen, push-to-talk functionality, scratch-proof screens, extended-life batteries and secure VPN support.
Going forward, however, companies will no longer have to choose between budget-busting enterprise solutions and price-friendly consumer devices that lack the hardiness and functionality necessary for the industry. A new era of rugged mobile devices has arrived in the U.S. market, led by Kyocera, that blend the functionality and durability of enterprise rugged devices with the affordability of off-the-shelf, carrier-subsidized consumer devices.
Android-based smartphones like Kyocera’s DuraForce, Brigadier and TorqueXT provide hardened voice and data solutions at a fraction of the cost of Apple’s iPhone. They meet compliance standards and provide security, performance and connectivity at an affordable price point. They also support a robust ecosystem of software/application developers and hardware accessories that turn the devices into tailored solutions for specific vertical markets. Meanwhile, not all construction workers require data services (and more-expensive data service plans), making rugged feature phones like Kyocera’s Dura Series an even lower-cost option. All of the devices are certified to Military Standard 810G and are offered by nearly all major carriers in North America, including AT&T®, Verizon, T-Mobile®, Sprint®, Bell Mobility® and Telus®, making these rugged devices available off-the-shelf and ready for deployment for an average subsidized price of just $49 to $149. By combining the technology and durability demanded by business users with mass-market economies of scale and retail-channel relationships, Kyocera has created a new class of field-force mobility devices that uniquely deliver on both performance and TCO.
In a bottom-line business like construction, this new breed of rugged mobile devices will enable professionals and companies of all sizes to utilize technology to realize efficiencies that will help them compete, grow and thrive in the digital age.
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- The 4th Annual Construction Technology Report, JB Knowledge, 2015
- The 3rd Annual Construction Technology Report, JB Knowledge, 2014
- VDC research, April 2013, Strategic Insights 2012: Enterprise Mobility Solutions, Mobile Device TCO Models for Line of Business Solutions, Volume 1 / Track 7: Enterprise Mobility – Mobile Device TCO, by David Krebs, Vice President
- Wells Fargo Construction Industry Forecast, 2016 http://images-mail.wellsfargoemail.com/Web/WellsFargoWholesaleServices/%...