Through changing tides in the industry, rugged devices have remained anchored as an integral part of many enterprises. Last June, AirWatch acquired Motorola Solutions’ MSP (Mobility Services Platform) to expand AirWatch’s rugged device management support. Since that time, AirWatch has worked to integrate the two management platforms and create a single pane of glass for managing both rugged and consumer devices. AirWatch also partners with the hardware division of Motorola Solutions, which manufactures rugged devices for a variety of niche industries.
Consumerization of IT is the single biggest trend affecting the rugged market, says Mark Kirstein, senior director of enterprise software at Motorola Solutions. “It starts with the proliferation of smartphones. Rugged has always been a niche market, but with smartphones in the hands of most everyone, users expect a better experience.”
The Hardware: Motorola Solutions’ Rugged Device Business
Motorola Solutions has responded to consumerization demands by focusing on both user experience and industrial design, says Barry Issberner, head of enterprise product marketing at Motorola Solutions, which has been developing rugged devices including handhelds, barcode scanning systems, RFID platforms and wireless communications gear for enterprises for more than 30 years. Investing in sound mechanical, electrical and software engineering have helped Motorola meet some very specific customer needs, Issberner says.
A rugged device lifecycle can be anywhere from six to 10 years, far outlasting a typical consumer device. But as a device vendor, Motorola Solutions must face the difficult task of keeping up with rapid changes in operating system (OS) platforms.
MDM partnerships help Motorola Solutions keep pace with the rapid technological advancements. “Leveraging leading MDM partnerships that have the skills and scale to keep up with the pace of technology here is a critical piece of the puzzle,” says Issberner. AirWatch integrates with Motorola Solutions software so that enterprises using the devices can easily and centrally manage them. Motorola Solutions has also steadily increased its software platform engineering resources to deal with the challenge.
A perceived innovation gap has led a few brave enterprises to try replacing rugged with consumer devices – with little success. “We’ve seen cases where enterprises have tested consumer devices for niche uses and the total cost of ownership really skyrockets,” says Kirstein. “It can be as much as three to five times the total cost to use a consumer device in a rugged scenario.”
Tasks as simple as scanning a barcode can put strain on a consumer device when done in excess. A consumer device’s camera is designed to take pictures, whereas a rugged device was built to scan first and take pictures second. A warehouse worker may scan a thousand or more barcodes a day – and each scan with a consumer device requires the camera to repeatedly refocus. This puts strain on the camera and quick battery drain, which can lead to heavy device turnover.
Rugged devices also offer unique features such as access point hopping, which allows field workers to maintain a signal amidst physical obstructions, such as large containers in a shipyard. The rugged devices can skip from one access point to another and never lose a signal in areas where consumer devices have poor reception at best.
Though there is growing demand for consumer devices in the field, the total cost of ownership doesn’t add up, Issberner says. “More and more customers ask ‘why are your systems thicker and heavier than the one I use at home?” Motorola Solutions has invested in materials to help explain the difference in total cost of ownership when a consumer device is deployed in a long-term rugged enterprise use case. “Many leading industry analysts have also been asked these questions and we’ve all been able to clearly document the cost & size differences pay off handsomely – every time – in terms of multi-year total cost of ownership.”
In the rugged market, devices are specifically designed to withstand unique circumstances. “Our ultra-rugged devices are task-specific,” says Kirstein. “We offer solutions that can be used in complex weather conditions.” From sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic to sand and heat in the Middle East, Motorola Solutions devices are designed withstand these extremes. Issberner expands, “Combining all these factors means we have what is in our opinion the most complete and well-considered solutions for our target customers. Our systems work better, are easier to use day after day, last longer and still cost less in terms of total cost of ownership.”
“When these devices are being used to perform mission-critical tasks, you need to create a controlled environment,” says Issberner. Motorola Solutions’ products are used to power the daily operations of some of the world’s most successful business and government operations in the world. “We track and trace production & quality, monitor urgent deliveries, and handle wholesale and retail transactions in a wide variety of vertical segments.” Customers depend on these devices to work day-in and day-out, says Kirstein.
The Management Software: AirWatch + Motorola MSP
“MDM plays a huge role in ensuring these devices are managed and working properly,” Kirsten says, by enabling enterprises to maintain oversight over all of their devices, even those that are furthest afield. A rugged device may not see a central office for years on end, but with MDM, an administrator at headquarters can update software and push applications over the air. AirWatch purchased Motorola Solutions’ management software division and has since integrated advanced management of rugged devices into the AirWatch console.
AirWatch has introduced several new management capabilities with AirWatch 7.1, the latest software update. Motorola customers can now use barcode scanning to provision the AirWatch Agent and OEM service automatically. Barcode scanning can also enable the enrolling and registering of the device. Features such as over-the-air OS upgrades are now capable of being pushed to an entire fleet of Motorola devices without having to physically touch each device. These OS upgrades can be scheduled to install automatically. For example, a device may be scheduled to upgrade its OS over the weekend, as opposed to during the work week. AirWatch 7.1 also brings a feature called Product Provisioning, which enables the following:
- Define the order in which applications, profiles, files or actions install
- Define conditions that determine when to download applications and content (ex. only download an application when the device is connected to Wi-Fi)
- Perform automatic sync of device inventory based on a product definition
- Integrate relay server
- Push product provisioning applications and content to a local server
- Download the applications and content to devices from the relay server instead of directly from the AirWatch server
- Conserve and manage data bandwidth for large device deployments
Before AirWatch and Motorola MSP’s management platforms were integrated, IT administrators had to manage rugged devices and consumer devices separately. “AirWatch acquired Motorola to marry the consumer and rugged devices together,” Kirsten said.
“Now with the AirWatch acquisition, Motorola Solutions customers have the added benefit of faster, quicker and better support of Motorola rugged devices from AirWatch.”
Enterprises can now manage devices – rugged and consumer – from warehouse to store floor. By partnering with AirWatch, Motorola Solutions associates can “assure to our customers that we have complete confidence in these recommended platforms,” Issberner says. “We can only do that with the best and brightest MDM vendors.”
And as for the decision to sell Motorola Solutions MSP platform to AirWatch, Issberner describes it clearly. “As the wireless industry advanced each year towards broader and often consumer-led mobile technologies, it became less and less important for Motorola Solutions to directly own and develop basic MDM technology – the broad scale industry took over this difficult and costly challenge, frankly. That’s why it made sense to us after years of investment to divest the MSP platform to a more focused but broader-scale supplier: AirWatch.”
The rugged market has changed, but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. “I think we will continue to see the rugged market and Motorola Solutions evolve,” Kirstein says. “And AirWatch with MSP is going to be a driving force in that evolution.”