There are a lot of exciting advancements in the world of enterprise mobile devices and plenty of new trends to look forward to as we move into 2022. Enterprise mobility has become an essential piece of the corporate workforce for companies across various industries, including but not limited to retail, manufacturing, logistics, and transportation.
These enterprise mobile devices enable end-users to perform tasks and boost productivity by providing many tools to improve the workplace experience. Our co-founders at BlueFletch, Richard Makerson, and Brett Cooper, sat down to discuss seven trends around enterprise mobile devices in 2022 on their podcast, The Enterprise Mobility Roundup.
Mobile Devices Purpose-Built for the Enterprise
If you asked around the retail, warehouse, or logistics industries about enterprise devices, you might be surprised to hear the variety of device types that fit into the “enterprise mobile device” category. Perspectives range from handhelds, tablets, and laptops to IoT sensors and smart cameras. The common thread that all of these devices share is that they improve the employee and customer experience.
For the sake of this article, we will define a mobile enterprise device as a company-owned rugged device such as a smartphone or a tablet that is shared between employees. Depending on the company, these devices will either remain in the facility for the next person to use or go home with their assigned user. A key element of enterprise devices is that they are purpose-built for their environments.
These devices are designed specifically with their end-users job in mind. Whether they’re being utilized in a retail location, storage facility, or warehouse, each device is fitted for workplace-specific tasks.
For example, warehouse devices may feature inventory applications and hardware attachments that allow workers to scan and organize the inventory. Another example would be how airline companies have begun using devices to improve the boarding process.
Another key feature of many enterprise mobile devices is the rugged form factor. Ruggedized mobile devices are built to withstand and resist damage from drops, temperature, moisture, and even electrostatic discharge. This ruggedization improves their usefulness across a variety of different situations. Some workplace environments have a larger margin for potential damage. With rugged devices, employees don’t have to worry about shattering a screen or accidentally destroying a device on the job.
7 Key Trends In Enterprise Mobile Devices
The following areas are seven key trends that our team predicts we will see more of in 2022.
Trend 1 - More Apps on Enterprise Mobile Devices
Moore’s law is an observation that predicts the capacity of computers will double approximately every year. This trend has continued to hold true for mobile devices over the last 20 years. With this increased capacity (in both processing power and memory), mobile devices have become more capable of running a wider variety of applications. Over the last few years, we have observed companies using more applications on devices. In 2022 we predict we will continue to see more apps on devices, including both homegrown apps and 3rd party apps.
Many organizations pride themselves on building their own custom applications that allow them to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. We usually see larger organizations invest in this capability. Typically, homegrown applications require a company to have development teams and support teams on staff (or hire consultants).
Internal development teams typically know the needs of their end-user better than external development companies. Having a direct line of communication between the development team and the frontline employees will only strengthen the power of the devices. When an organization has complete control of its application’s features and functionalities, it allows them to target areas that 3rd party or off-the-shelf applications may not support.
Off the Shelf Applications
For larger companies, certain application capabilities may not be key to their differentiated value proposition. Examples of this could include HR systems, training systems, or phone systems. Building these systems custom would be less than ideal if they could purchase an off-the-shelf solution to provide these capabilities.
Fortunately, more software companies are building solutions that are targeted at providing these specific capabilities on enterprise mobile devices.
Additionally, for smaller companies, it is normally not feasible to develop and support custom applications. They are also able to utilize many of the newer mobile applications provided by software vendors to meet the needs of their frontline workforce.
Continued Increase in Application Count
Ten years ago, it was not uncommon to see an enterprise mobile device running only a single application for a specific business function (e.g., green screen terminal emulation running a Warehouse Management App). With the increase in device power and the availability of more third-party applications, we continue to see companies providing more applications to their frontline employees on their enterprise mobile devices. We expect this trend to continue this year.
Trend 2 - Improvements in Connectivity
Less than two decades ago, wireless networks (WiFi) were a rarity within most companies. It has become almost ubiquitous over the last ten years across most enterprises. WiFi technology has continued to improve in both speed and coverage. These improvements come through updated hardware and newer standards.
The latest WiFi standard that WiFi hardware vendors and mobile device manufacturers (OEMs) are supporting is WiFi6. WiFi 6 improves the speed and coverage of wireless network performance. From a bandwidth perspective, WiFi 6 is theoretically twice as fast as the previous standards.
Improved bandwidth will allow enterprise mobile devices to support more data-rich applications such as real-time video or voice. Additionally, faster transaction speeds for end-user apps will enhance employees’ productivity.
In the 2010s, many companies built their business model around employees leveraging consumer phones to perform their work tasks. Primary examples of this include transportation companies like Uber and Lyft.
The advantages these companies have achieved by leveraging cellular technology have pushed many companies to consider enabling their field workforce mobile devices with cellular. Similar to WiFi technology advances, cellular has gotten faster and cheaper over the last few years.
We believe we will continue to see increased usage of a cellular (both 5G and LTE) versus just WIFI for enterprise mobile devices for delivery drivers and field workers.
Trend 3 - More Capable Communication Apps
As the world has become more accustomed to distributed teams and hybrid work environments, communication applications like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams have become essential to white-collar knowledge workers. We are seeing more organizations using similar communications tools to enable better team collaboration amongst field workers and frontline employees.
Better communication boosts efficiency and productivity as employees are connected at all times. Because devices do not need to be connected to traditional telephones or switchboard systems, communication can happen without telephony. Promoting a more team-oriented workspace should be the priority for every enterprise.
We believe the next step for communication tools will be to provide a better interface for companies to reach out to stores through more modern mediums such as an online chat.
Trend 4 - RFID for Improved Inventory
RFID (Radio Frequency ID) is a technology that allows a user to scan hundreds or thousands of RFID tags in seconds. RFID allows companies to collect accurate inventory data quickly. In the retail environment, this improved accuracy helps provide capabilities to support BOPIS offerings (buy online pickup in-store). Additionally, RFID can help reduce the time spent and money lost due to misplaced inventory with RFID in warehouse and distribution environments.
RFID technology has existed for over 20 years, but the cost of tags and readers has historically made RFID cost-prohibitive. As more organizations implement RFID, the prices continue to fall. Additionally, many larger retail organizations have begun requiring that vendor’s products have RFID tags.
With the increased focus on inventory accuracy over the last few years, we believe we will continue to see more companies leverage RFID, especially as the cost of RFID tags and readers continues to drop.
To learn more about RFID, check out our blog post on RFID Technology.
Trend 5 - Companies deploying employee assigned devices instead of shared devices.
Rugged enterprise mobile devices have historically has price points above $1000 USD. These high price points typically lead to a limited pool of devices in a facility shared by multiple employees. With the move to Android as the primary operating system for most enterprise mobile devices, the number of available rugged options along with the usage of consumer grade hardware has driven down the cost of putting mobile devices in the hands of employees.
Recently Walmart announced that it was leverage Samsung devices to have individually assigned to employees. Thier employees will be able to take these devices home with them at the end of their shift and will be responsible for the charging, care, and upkeep on their dedicated devices. For some corporate employees, this approach is nothing new as having your own company laptop is practically a standard nowadays, but for frontline workers, this is a change from the norm of having to share devices with other employees.
Every organization has a different set of guidelines and procedures related to its enterprise device fleet. Some companies assign individual employees devices, while others opt for devices to be shared amongst shift workers. There are advantages to both, and here are some reasons why we may begin to see a more diverse approach to device utilization.
Benefits of Shared Enterprise Mobile Devices
Most retailers and warehouses employ a shared device strategy across their enterprise. These devices are kept in the workplace, usually in a charging station where they will rotate between users and shifts. When an employee ends their shift, they dock their device and leave it for the next user.
The key advantages to a shared device approach are:
- Purchasing one device for every three employees can help cut costs
- Ability to buy higher end / more rugged devices that have longer life cycles.
- Devices are less likely to be “Lost” when a employee leaves the company.
- Better control of software updates since devices are on a known network and on a charger when not in use.
Benefits of Employee Assigned Devices
It’s a Wednesday morning and you’ve just got to your locker at the warehouse. You have a long shift of taking inventory and stocking ahead of you. If you are using your own dedicated device, you can be sure that your device is charged up and you know where to find it. No need to stress about whether the guy from your previous shift forgot to return the device to the charger at the end of his day.
In addition to employees feeling comfortable with knowing where their device it, we have have also seen these benefits. :
- With an increase in device capability in a faster time-frame, many companies want to replace devices quicker than 3-5 years. Less expensive consumer grade devices makes this feasible.
- Having a dedicated device may give the impression to employees that they are more valued, creating improved retention.
- When employees feel responsible for a device, the damage rate and loss rates for devices may decrease.
To read more about this topic, check out our blog on How mobility improves the employee experience.
Trend 6 - Leveraging Location for Context
Leveraging location to improve contextual awareness of applications is another trend that we believe we will continue to see more of in 2022.
Consumer apps such as Yelp, Uber, or even weather apps have been leveraging location context to provide valuable functionality on personal cell phones for over a decade. For enterprise mobile applications, location can help employees better perform activities such as:
- Identifying tasks in my near vicinity that need to be performed
- Quickly locating product or goods in a warehouse to improve speed of picking orders.
- Reducing time spend by moving within a facility or warehouse.
- Accurately locating a customer who is looking for assistance.
The Android operating system introduced fine grain indoor location functionality in Android 9. This technology leverages a technology called wifi round trip time (WiFi RTT) to map and triangulate a mobile devices’ location in space. The accuracy on wifi RTT can be within 1 meter, which allow most applications to provide useful contextual functionality. With WiFi6, location accuracy will continue to improved even more.
To read more about indoor location services, take a look at our article The Guide To Indoor Location Services.
Trend 7 - Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality
Advancements in hardware (CPUs, Cameras, and sensors) and software capabilities (Android ARcore) of modern mobile devices has opened the door for Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality experiences. For consumer devices, these capabilities are typically leverages for gaming or translation type functionality, but in the enterprise they can be application to assist employees in more complex tasks.
Common scenarios where we see AR and VR creating value in the Enterprise include:
- Locating products fasters – Employees can quickly scan a shelf to look through and see where product should be located.
- Reduced training time for complex tasks – Complex tasks such as assembling or disassembling a product can be shown on an overlay of the actual product.
- Identify if products are correctly labeled – Product locations and labels can be verified in realtime on an AR overlay.
- Translating – Mobile Devices can instantaneously translate text using an AR overlay.
The following video shows as example of enterprise app we created to help quickly identify products that need to have their price labels updates.
Conclusion - Enterprise Mobile Device Improvement will Result in Productivity Gains
We believe that the advancements in hardware and software of mobile devices, along with the trends we are seeing, will result in increased productivity for enterprise users. We have already seen benefits in our customers who have deployed these technologies, and we believe that more companies will adopt them in the coming.
If you have any questions on any of the above items, feel free to reach out to us at info@BlueFletch.com.
Also, if you are interested in learning more about enterprise mobility, subscribe to the BlueFletch Enterprise Mobility Roundup podcast on your favorite podcasting tool ( Apple, Spotify, Google, or YouTube).