A Brief History of Devices for Enterprise Mobility.
The advent of the smartphone in the last few years has been the thing that has led to rapid adoption of apps for enterprise mobility right, er wrong !
In fact this stuff has been around since the 90’s when niche companies started to build devices to enable mobile workers to collect data and transmit it back to MRP and decision management systems.
Early adopters could be found in vertical markets such as warehousing retail parcel delivery and automating route accounting paper trails. Adoption paralleled business drivers to shrink at desk headcount improve efficiency and make operations more mobile at the sharp end. Devices boasted proprietary text based OS’s and small line based display screens with limited graphic capability. Comms consisted of returning a unit to a dock for batch upload and to re-charge NICAD batteries.
Units that were revolutionary at the time sported a 386 compatible chip a version of DOS multi line LCD display and built in bar code scanner. Products like Intermec’s Janus 2020 and Telxon’s 960 also included Spread Spectrum radio – if you remember the frequency hopping Vs direct sequence wars of the mid 90’s take a bow now.
In parallel other vendors concentrated on Terminal Emulation based systems using narrow band radios which proved very popular in warehousing.
Since then key device characteristics in this area have been the longevity of specific model ranges long term serviceability ruggedness and accessories not seen early on in phones such as docking cradles, bar code scanning, cameras GPS and Bluetooth. All these attributes genuinely help the management of large enterprise mobility deployments especially in organisations spread out over multiple sites and borders. Not surprisingly manufacturers have maintained that a rugged device has a demonstrably better TCO over a ‘consumer’ device during a 3-5 year working life.
Microsoft has enjoyed great vertical integration in this field. Supplying the technology that underpins both the back end systems the customer is using and also versions of Windows Mobile and CE which became the most widely used handheld device OS. Pre-eminence was further helped by a plentiful supply of Microsoft trained programmers and a lot of software shops with an interest in keeping customers on the platform.
Key point here is that there are many experienced industry veterans still involved in the industry. Seek them out in manufacturers and resellers you may be surprised at the valuable advice and insight they can contribute to your project.
Next time – arguably picking a device for a project has never been more difficult so what are your options?