Guide to Creating Value From New Enterprise Android Devices

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We rolled out Enterprise Android Devices... Now What?

With the end of support for Windows CE, companies have made (or are making) the switch to rugged Enterprise Android devices. The majority of the enterprises executed on a lift and shift approach where they focused on getting feature parity with their legacy Windows CE devices. If they were using web applications or Green Screen applications on your Windows devices, they have most likely transitioned by using a tool like Ivanti’s Velocity Terminal Emulator.

If you are in the category and have spent thousands of dollars rolling out these new devices, your leadership team is most likely going to ask you next “How we can get more value out of this investment?”.

The good news is that with the power, functionality, and application ecosystem you will be able to get a lot more out of your investment. This article covers some of our high-level observations around where we have seen companies get more value out of their Rugged Android devices.

This article will cover the following topics: 

  1. Definition of Enterprise Android devices
  2. Technology that makes these devices better
  3. Business areas to get more value from these devices
  4. Types of application to create value
  5. Approach to Getting Started

Definition: Enterprise Android Devices

At BlueFletch we define “Enterprise Android Devices” as handheld units that are used by employees at worksites to collect data, track work tasks, or reference business-related information. These devices are owned by the company and are typically shared between users.

Most larger corporations leverage Rugged Android Device from manufacturers such as Zebra, Honeywell, Datalogic, or Panasonic. These rugged devices have been designed to withstand the elements (i.e. water, temp, drop) and have an ecosystem of accessories that can be used for job-specific tasks (e.g. grips, vehicle mounts, holsters). Rugged devices also have a longer support cycle, with some manufacturers supporting security patches and OS upgrades for up to 5 years.

Some companies have opted to leverage consumer-grade devices (e.g. non-ruggedized) for their employee devices. The most common non-rugged devices we see in the enterprise are Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola. The primary advantage of these devices is that they are substantially cheaper than similar devices from Ruggedized manufactures, but that comes with the trade-off of a shorter lifespan and support life.

Learn More - Android over iOS

Article summarizing the key advantages of choosing Android Rugged devices over iOS devices for your Enterprise.

What is the technology that makes Enterprise Android devices better than Windows Mobile handhelds?

In the early 2000s, the introduction of Microsoft Windows Mobile (aka Windows CE) drove a shift of enterprises moving to wireless handheld computers that had advanced capabilities outside of just green-screen terminals.  In 2007 Apple introduced the iPhone and was initially ignored by businesses as a consumer toy. Google quickly followed with the introduction of the Android OS as an alternative to iOS and Windows Mobile.  

As of 2019, there are an estimated 1.5 Billion iOS devices and 2.5 Billion Android devices in use globally.  Windows Mobile market share dropped to such a low level that in 2017 Microsoft decided to end of life the platform. Due to the manufacture support ecosystem, Android has taken over from Windows Mobile as the enterprise mobile device OS of choice.  

Other than the operating system, there have been a few core advancements that have made these new Android devices so much more powerful than the legacy windows device.  The main categories include: 

  • Performance – There appears to be no slowing down Moore’s Law.  The processor speed on these devices continues to double approximately every two years. There are also improved graphics and co-processors on mobile devices.  These improvements allow heavier compute tasks to be pushed to the edge and allows for advanced graphics experiences like VR and AR.  
  • Network – WiFi networks, wireless standards, and mobile device radios have continued to improve over the last 20+ years. Every generation of mobile handheld devices continues to have better range and roaming capabilities than their predecessors. 
  • BlueTooth / PAN – In addition to wifi, newer devices have continued to adopt Bluetooth for wireless connectivity between handheld and detached accessories. 
  • Battery – Battery technology continues to be a limiting factor to the size and shape of most devices, but it has also continued to improve. Check out this article to learn more about battery advancements in mobile tech: https://bluefletch.com/the-future-of-batteries-in-mobile-devices/
  • Storage – The price of small format memory chips on devices has continued to decline at a rate similar to the improvements in performance. This price drop has allowed more and more storage on mobile devices (to the point where it typically is no longer a limiting factor)
  • Sensors – Mobile devices now include all sorts of sensors, including motion, temperature, pressure, screen touch, fingerprint readers, face detection sensors, NFC, and RFID.  As these sensors have gotten cheaper, they have become more ubiquitous across the mobile device landscape. 
  • Cameras – Most peoples cell phone has become their primary still camera and video camera.  These cameras have also become available on enterprise devices for business tasks. 
  • Scanners – Scanners were historically laser-based devices that allowed the rapid reading of linear barcodes.  Over the last few years, most scanners devices have moved to imager technology that can scan multi-dimensional barcodes (e.g., QR codes). 
  • Hardware Ecosystem – The hardware ecosystem for android continues to grow.  As more manufacturers build devices around Android, even more accessories are created that are compatible with the Android ecosystem. 

Honorable mention: 

  • Software Ecosystem – Due to the open-source nature of Android and the continued push from google for android adoption, the majority of the consumer devices in the world are Android-based.  A knock-on effect of this is that the ecosystem of applications and development tools is incredibly significant. At the time of the writing of this article, there are almost a million Android related projects on Github (compared to 300,000 iOS projects).

Coding Enterprise Android Applications

Key Business Areas to Extract Value From Enterprise Android Devices

Whether your organization chose to go with rugged or consumer-grade Android devices, you now have options where you can focus on getting more value out of these devices.

The top areas that most companies typically get value out of these new devices come from:

Improve Operational Efficiency

The improved speed of an application on a new Android device compared to a handheld from 10 years ago should give you enough performance boost to justify the cost savings alone. Based on Moore’s law, a new device would be approximately 128 times faster than a Windows CE device from 2010. If you have employees who were spending a total of 20 minutes a day waiting on processing activities to occur on a device, they are now spending 10 seconds a day for that same amount of on-device processing. Additionally, more complex computing tasks can be pushed from your servers out to your handheld devices, allowing for further efficiency gains for your end-users.

Reduce Training Costs

If you take a walk around any warehouse or manufacturing plant in the world to take a survey of the devices that the employees are using, you will find that the majority of users have personal Android devices. Our research has shown that Blue-Collar workers tend to skew heavily toward Android due to the lower initial cost of acquiring consumer Android devices. If you roll out Android devices, this translates into a group of users who already understand the basic concepts of the operating system, keyboard, and application interaction UX patterns.

Employee Retention

By the year 2030, the majority of the US workforce will be generation Z and Millennial employees. These employees tend to hop jobs more often if they are not satisfied with their employment experience. This generation has also grown up with modern mobile devices in their hands. Making them use a legacy green screen or Windows CE device can potentially drive down employee satisfaction and will result in lower employee retention. If you give them modern Android devices to help them perform their tasks, you can improve the retention of these critical assets of your organization.

Move to Collect More Data

Data has rapidly become one of the more valuable assets of modern companies.  With better data, leadership teams can build better models, improve their business, and have a competitive advantage over their competition.  Some Academics point to the theory that the main reason google made Android free was so they can collect data about billions of users and learn how to improve search and advertising algorithms.

Improve Interactions With Your Customers

End customers have become more aligned to the “Now Economy,” where they expect instant gratification when interacting with retailers or businesses. Putting more capabilities and information in the hands of your employees will allow them to serve those customer interactions better, which will help you stay relevant against the onslaught of competition your company is facing.

If you need inspiration for how you can get more value out of mobile devices in your enterprise, I recommend that you look at what other companies are doing with mobile devices.  The following are some recommendations on how to learn more about how employees and companies use mobile devices; 

  • Retail – Walk around your favorite retailer, ask any employee what applications they like on their mobile device and how they use it in their day to day voice. 
  • Delivery – When the delivery person from your Pizza/Delivery/Retail/Foodservice comes to your residence, ask them what apps they use for their jobs and how they like them. 
  • Events – When you see people in the service industry such as restaurants, airports, or events, ask the employees how they like doing their tasks with a mobile device and what would make it faster. 
  • Field Service – Field service employees such as a phone company installers, meter readers, and house inspectors are starting to carry mobile devices to track data. If you see one pull out a mobile device, ask them what features they use on the devices. 
  • Adjacent Industry – Another learning opportunity is to reach out to companies in adjacent non-competitive businesses to ask if you can experience share with their teams around mobile technology.  

These are just a few examples of jobs you can learn from around using mobile devices. The key is to be curious and ask people what they like and what they think could be done better. 

Business Aisle

Applications Areas to Deliver Value

Marc Andreessen coined the phrase “Software is eating the world” to describe how software has become such a critical part of any business of any industry.  As you look at your investment in new mobile devices, you should assess how applications can create more value for those devices.  The following are the common areas assess:

Communication Applications

One of the easiest ways to take advantage of your new Enterprise Android devices is to improve the communication tools available to your end-users. 

The general categories of communication tools that we see companies leverage include: 

  • Walkie – Handheld Android devices can act as a replacement for Walkie talkie devices.  Some manufacturers, such as Zebra, include walkie apps as part of their base OS image for their devices.  Multiple other applications can be used in place of walkie talkies.
  • Phone/VOIP – Customers still call businesses on the phone when they need something. One of the advantages of newer Android devices is that they can almost all be used as a VOIP phone extension. This voice capability allows any employee in your store or warehouse to become a point of contact to help your customers out.
  • Texting – Device to device text messaging is becoming more common for business. With the continued addition of younger employees, text messaging and sending pictures have replaced email and phone calls.  The other advantage of text messaging types of application is that the messages are asynchronous and don’t require immediate responses, allowing employees to complete tasks before having to respond.
  • Video – Video between employees can be useful in situations where one employee needs help from another employee in very visual situations (e.g., inspecting a complex piece of machinery). Additionally, video can help in situations where communication may require more empathy and human touch (e.g., dealing with an HR issue or dealing with a demanding customer). 
  • Collaboration – A general category of tools that combines many of the above areas into one suite is called “Collaboration Tools”  These tools have started to replace email for lots of communication functions within businesses. The most common collaboration tools we see companies looking at include Slack, Microsoft Team, Discord, Cisco Spark, Workplace by Facebook, and Salesforce Chatter.

Read More - Value of Mobile Communication Tools

Best Practices for Leveraging Communication Tools in Your Enteprise

Line of Business Applications

A line of business application (LOB apps) is defined as a core app that your teams use to perform tasks related to the business or product your company delivers.  To determine what additional line of business apps you need, we recommend that you: 

  • Look at the applications your teams use on desktops to see if there is an equivalent version available for mobile
  • Look at applications your competitors are using on their mobile devices. 
  • Look at the paper-based processes your teams perform to understand if these would be more efficient if they were moved to mobile devices. 
  • Look at the data you use to run your business.  Could you collect better data with mobile apps in the hands of your employees? 

When possible, we recommend you look to leverage solutions that are already built and to avoid building apps unless it gives you a distinct competitive advantage.  

If you do have to build an app, we recommend prototyping and running proof of concepts to prove the app concept first.  A more recent tool that we have used for prototyping and proving out new lightweight applications on top of Google Sheets is Glide https://www.glideapps.com/  If you have a simple app that is driven by data, this tool allows you to rapidly prototype and validate.

Web Applications

The most popular browser in the world is currently Chrome.  As of the writing of this article, Chrome has 70% of the global browser market share (thanks in part to Android). One of the most significant advantages for you is that most web applications are compatible with your new Enterprise Application devices.  In addition to desktop compatibility, most online applications will also support a responsive view that allows your handheld user to use these online apps easily.

Web applications are cheaper to support and easier to deploy. Additionally, if they are a SaaS offering from someone else, they can be very inexpensive to pilot and test in your environment. 

As you are looking to improve the value of your mobile devices by adding more apps, look to see if there are web applications that you can easily leverage to perform the business functions that you are looking to accomplish. 

Google Applications

For the first few years of Android, Google initially focused on consumer devices and functionality to support consumers.  As manufacturers like Zebra and Samsung have driven Android devices into the enterprise, Google has taken notice and has started to add support for more and more enterprise-grade features and functionality.  The main things to look at from the Google ecosystem include: 

The Google Android tools you should consider taking a look at include: 

  • Android Enterprise  – Google initially rolled out “Android for work” in 2017 and rebranded it to “Android Enterprise” in 2019.  This suite includes excellent tools and features that can help you manage your enterprise Android devices and their security.  Read more here: https://www.Android.com/enterprise/devices/
  • G-Suite – Google Docs, Sheets, and drivers were the originally G-suite applications that Google started selling to business in 2006 (along with Gmail).  With the widespread adoption of Android, Google has focused on making those tools and all of their other apps support usage for businesses using mobile.  As more rugged manufacturers have started to release GMS (Google Managed Services) compatible devices, you can leverage G-Suite to expose these tools to end-users on your devices. Your development teams can also develop business applications that tie into the functionality of G-Suite apps to help extend your business capabilities. https://developers.google.com/gsuite/guides/Android
  • Android Management APIs – Google has developed a set of Android Management APIs that allows companies to support and manage their devices programmatically.  These APIs also have helped the MDMs and Device manufacturers build better tooling for enterprise Android devices. Read more about how your teams can utilize these APIs here: https://developers.google.com/Android/management

Support Applications

The tools available to support and improve the uptime and management of mobile devices have become much more robust with the introduction of Android enterprise devices.  The following are some areas of support tooling to consider as you look to expand the capabilities of your enterprise Android devices. 

MDM Tooling

MDM stands for Mobile Device Management. This category of tools has been around since the days of Microsoft’s SMS tools for windows mobile.  MDM tools allow you to perform common management tasks on large groups of mobile devices, such as updating software, configuring settings, or deploying OS patch updates.  The most common MDM tools you will find on enterprise Android devices will be SOTI or Airwatch, but there are a large number of alternate options available in the marketplace. 

Remote Control Tooling

The ability to remotely control your enterprise Android device will immensely help you to drive down the costs for supporting these devices.  As you are looking at MDM solutions, be sure to include remote control features in your pricing options. 

Analytics and Support Tools

Collecting quality data about your devices is another way you can improve the support experience and operational experience for your mobile devices.  We recommend tracking the following type of data about your devices: 

  • Proactive Hardware Issues – Collect data around battery health, device restarts, and device crashes.  
  • Proactive Software Issues – Collect data for Software version, OS Patch versions, to understand if you MDM is deploying software correctly.  Additionally, application screen level data with tools such as Firebase Analytics to get visibility into in-app issues. 
  • Proactive Environment Issues – Collect data around network performance and other physical attributes (e.g., Drops, Temperature) to understand if there are any issues with the environment that you need to address for your mobile devices. 
  • Device and Application Usage – Collect data about how often handhelds are used, what sites/users use them the most, and what applications they are using on the devices. This data will allow you to make better forward-looking decisions about where to invest in new hardware or software. 
 

Security Tooling

As you look at expanding the capabilities of your new Android mobile devices, don’t forget about securing the devices.  The more data they have access to, the more attractive they will be to hackers. We recommend you take a look at the following areas: 

  • Network security – review your wireless infrastructure and how your devices connect to your network. 
  • VPN  – Normally, we try to avoid VPN tools as that can add another layer of authentication that slows users down. Still, they can be useful if you have multiple 3rd party apps that need to connect to internal resources. 
  • Device Lockdown – For enterprises that area leverage shared Android devices with more than one application set, we recommend leveraging a secure Android Launcher replacement.  SOTI, Airwatch, and other MDM provide Secure launchers you can leverage. Additionally, if you are looking for a deep set of features, you can take a look at BlueFletch’s Enterprise Launcher. 
  • Single Sign-On – Single sign-on can save your end users lots of time throughout their day. BlueFletch has an SSO that integrates with our secure Enterprise launcher mentioned above. Alternately, if you are looking for something less robust, you can look to roll your own SSO solution for your Android apps. 

Approach To Get Started Testing New Value Areas

As you consider expanding the capabilities of your new devices, the following are some of the initial best practices we would recommend for getting the most bang for your buck: 

Run Proof of Concepts (POCs)

Proof of concepts (POCs) allows you to validate solutions before investing lots of money in a full-scale solution.  Take a look at these articles if you are interested in learning more about the best practices of running POCs:

Learn to Leverage Analytics

According to Peter Drucker, “That which gets measured gets improved”. 

You need to build in tooling and capabilities around analytics if you want to understand what works for you and what is not working.  We recommend rolling out application analytics tooling to provide you visibility into the usage of your mobile devices, what application are being used, and how users are using them. 

UX - Make it Easy For Your Employee

Over the last 10 years, enterprises have started taking cues from startups to invest in UX (User Experience). As you look at the users of your new mobile devices assess how you can make the experience easier for them for any common actions that they have to perform every day.

Look for Ways to Contextually Drive Actions and Data

With newer more powerful Android devices, you are able to drive functionality based on contextual clues such as the last action performed, device location, wifi network connected.  Look for actions users perform and how they contextually align with environmental factors or other events.

Summary - Don't Try and Boil the Ocean

Congrats on your first steps of rolling out new mobile devices to you company.  Hopefully you found a few nuggets in this article to help you start to look for new ways to create more value from your investment.  Work in small bites to make the improvements and work with you employees to make the devices help them with their job. 

Summary Points from above: 

  • Look around the industry for how other companies are leveraging mobile devices. 
  • Review if you are using all the technological advances in devices such as cameras, sensors, or hardware. 
  • Review the application landscape for apps that might be helpful for your company. 
  • Implement tooling to help you manage and update device capabilities. 
  • Run limited proof of concepts to test our new apps or features. 
  • Measure, analyze, and understand usage patterns of your devices to improve the experience of your company’s users. 

Feel Free to reach out to us if you are looking for guidance around mobile strategy and your next steps.  You can contact us at info@bluefletch.com if you have additional questions that we can help you answer around best practices for enterprise mobile devices. 

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