Talk all you want about the advantages of rugged systems, but organizations have only so much money to spend — and budget constraints are getting tighter.
Purchasing decisions will mostly depend on the intended uses for the rugged equipment. Mission-critical applications need a level of assurance that only fully rugged systems can guarantee, though some organizations have tried to accomplish the same tasks with less than fully rugged products.
“We see the same mindset in government as we do in the commercial sector, where people say they have to equip a thousand users, this is our budget, and this is how we are going to go about doing it,” said David Krebs, director of VDC Research’s mobile and wireless practice. “Obviously, some people are pushing the envelope too far and are failing as a result.”
However, a growing class of equipment, known as business rugged systems, is available to organizations that are figuring out what rugged means and what it can do for them.
None of the recognized standards for ruggedness, such as Mil-Std 810G or the Ingress Protection (IP) ratings, covers anything called business rugged. Roger Kay, president of consulting firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, tried his hand several years ago at defining a scale of ruggedness that included systems such as business rugged and even durable, but it never caught on.
According to his definition, business rugged would meet certain standards for drops, vibration and ingress tests, but those results wouldn’t necessarily need to be independently verified by a certified testing laboratory, as those for fully rugged or semirugged systems need to be.
Even as the perceived need for rugged systems increases, it’s still a challenge to get some people to understand why certain products are designed for battlefield use versus less-taxing applications, such as emergency medical care or border patrol duty, said Panasonic Corp.’s Tim Collins.
Then there are people such as field insurance adjusters who investigate accidents and want something that is somewhat durable and can withstand water because they’ll sometimes carry it in the rain and then throw it in the back of a truck, he said.
“They are looking for an administrative product that’s going to be used in a more clean environment, and they just want it to be impervious to water, 4-foot drops and those kinds of things,” Collins said. “They are looking into what kind of rugged mobile system will work for them, and for those kinds of applications we are seeing the growth of business rugged in various places in government.”
It could also be that organizations’ attempts to cut costs during the past few years by stepping away from rugged and going with commercial products such as smart phones could lead to more use of business rugged, as a partial step toward the superior total cost of ownership (TCO) presented by rugged systems.
VDC, for example, said it tracked an increase in average failure rates for enterprise-deployed devices leading into 2010, driving TCO once again to the top of their IT investment criteria. And in various studies, VDC has found that the annual TCO performance for rugged devices is some 40 percent better than for nonrugged.
It won’t impact those organizations that regularly use fully rugged systems for their mission-critical capabilities, said Collins, because they tend to be well aware of the value of them for their mission. If budget is an issue, they opt to buy less of the rugged units rather than turn to the cheaper devices.
But for others, there are options.
“Things that we do with our systems [include adding] handles that help protect them from drops, using magnesium casings and waterproof membranes,” he said. “If they don’t need their systems to be impervious to the kind of dust you get in Afghanistan, and don’t need them to be protected against driving rain, then many people can use what we are calling the business rugged standard.”
Given the people who are now looking for rugged and durable systems in certain price areas, he said, business rugged is definitely an expanding niche market in government.