Rugged In Name Only: Deficient Notebooks Hurt Productivity

Assessing rugged notebooks for reliability, accessibility and usability protects organizations from buying devices that fail to meet their needs, sucking time, money and productivity.

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When your workplace is in the field, on the mountain or wherever else the job may dictate, you don’t always have the luxury of heading back to the office for missing data or connecting with a colleague.

But conducting business along the side of a road, in a warehouse or even on the battlefield without access to the same applications as everyone else sitting in the comfort of their home or office is no longer an acceptable excuse. We operate in a work-anywhere culture.

While business-class and consumer-grade notebooks helped free employees from their desks and realize the promise of a truly mobile workforce, these devices tend to fall short when used outside the comfort of a climate-controlled office. The need for access to information anywhere at any time has been growing for a while now. That’s why rugged or ruggedized notebooks that can withstand the wet, grit and drops that are an unavoidable part of the job for many workers.

But a name isn’t everything and not all “rugged” devices are created equal. Some devices are great at surviving drops but don’t have the processing power to get work done; they begin to crawl when running multiple applications. Others match the performance of business notebooks but falter after a month of jolts and shakes from being used in a vehicle. Unfortunately, some organizations learn this the hard way — in the field — losing invaluable productivity. Remember, employees that need rugged notebooks are often handling mission and business critical tasks.

So, what defines a high-performance rugged notebook? There are three main factors that IT decision makers need to consider when choosing a rugged device for their organization — reliability, accessibility and usability.

Measuring reliability

It’s easy to make claims about the ruggedness of a device; but platitudes can only go so far and smart buyers only seek out proven dependability. Notebooks that are real-world rugged meet stringent MIL-STD-810G standards used by all branches of the U.S. military to assess the viability of equipment in harsh environments, including extreme temperatures and humidity. Ruggedized devices meet these standards through a number of approaches. For example, notebooks equipped with special thermal management systems deliver efficient cooling and top-end system performance even in extreme conditions.  

Ingress protection, or how a machine guards against water and dust, is another factor worth considering. If your team is going to be working around rain showers and blowing dust or sand, you need them to be able to actually work in those conditions. The ability of the “bumpering system” to absorb accidental drops and other impacts is a third factor that cannot be overlooked: bumpy roads, steep climbs and long field hours are guaranteed to result in dropped notebooks.

Temperature, water, dust and drops — these conditions test the reliability of a rugged device but there are more factors to consider when making a purchase.

Accessibility means productivity

Another gauge of device suitability is accessibility — how easily a user can leverage productivity features. For rugged notebooks, special considerations need to be made relative to the kind of work performed by the end-user and where that work is done. For instance, first-responders, contractors and other workers that spend a lot of time outdoors require notebooks with screens that are impact-resistant and specifically designed to cut through the glare caused by bright environments.

Accessibility also includes connectivity, which is critical considering the prevalence of virtual desktops and requirements that end-users log into secure networks to access everyday applications and data. In addition to Wi-Fi connectivity, some rugged notebooks offer mobile broadband — a must-have for those whose workday grinds to a halt when the Internet signal drops. Battery life is another critical factor for field based workers. It is important to consider a unit that has the battery life to last an entire shift or risk losing productivity for your organization. However, productivity features are only as good as the system they are tied to.

High performance on-the-go

Being able to connect to a fast network is worthless if the local device lacks adequate capacity and processing speed. This point relates to usability, which is paramount to organizations that rely on apps to handle data-heavy graphics and high-definition video.

The Catastrophic Planning and Management Institute, a government task force that works with federal agencies to develop processes, training programs and products that improve how authorities prepare for disasters, is one of these organizations. One recent project involved taking a Latitude E6420 XFR notebook — Dell’s most rugged device — to the U.S. Virgin Islands where it was needed to load maps and charts as the institute’s team mapped out a hurricane evacuation plan. The Latitude was up for the job, meeting the institute’s requirements not only for usability, but also accessibility and reliability, according to a case study published by Dell.

In fact, the notebook survived a long tumble down a mud-covered rocky hillside during testing, attested Paula Smith, the institute’s director of special operations.

“I found it, opened it up, and it was working just fine, which shocked me,” she said. “All of the map work I’d saved was still there the way it was before.”

That’s the kind of reliability, productivity and accessibility that viable ruggedized devices possess. Make sure the rugged notebooks you’re looking at are adept at all three or your team will waste valuable time and energy in the field trying to get up-and-running again.

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