Putting the “Total” Back in Total Cost of Ownership – Part 2

3 reasons why you should evaluate TCO for your field operations technology every time

A list of some of the direct and indirect costs associated with mobile technology utilization in field service environments.
by Bob Ashenbrenner
May 14, 2019

In my last blog post, I mentioned that nearly three-quarters of respondents to Zebra’s recent Future of Field Operations Vision Study conduct a TCO analysis when evaluating their field operations technology options. However, there are two points I want to emphasize:

1.       A TCO analysis should be conducted EVERY time you buy mobile technology. It will help you secure executive approval for your project and identify early on if there are any hidden costs to your preferred solution.

2.       A TCO analysis should always consider the direct and indirect costs. Otherwise you risk miscalculating the TCO and your potential return on investment (ROI).

How to Conduct a TCO Analysis

Though each company’s TCO model will vary, there are standard direct and indirect costs to work in every time. It is also important to consider the balance of your OPEX and CAPEX. For example, these additional IT costs cover a lot of things; the cost of re-provisioning devices is just one of them. There are the costs to purchase and maintain the information systems that support these devices and the MDM (Mobile Device Management) work for security and updates.

I know, there is a difference between capital budgets and salary budgets. But with a financial perspective that only considers the capital budget, IT budgets get strained – too much work to maintain the wrong systems, not enough time to get ahead of issues. Remember, if management chooses the wrong device and causes an undue burden on IT, management isn’t going to say “oops”. They are going to demand that IT do better with their resources to keep their field workers working.

A chart outlining some of the costs that VDC Research recommends you factor into your Total Cost of Ownership calculations.

Which brings us to the top portion of the bars, the lost productivity. The couple of hours that a tech doesn’t have access to a mobile computer – whether because it broke or had to be sent back to IT for an update – are the biggest costs. It doesn’t take long for the lost hours to cost more in lost productivity than the cost differential of the initial purchase price. Can they see the screen in direct sunlight, or do they have to waste time moving around just to read the display?  Will the touchscreen work when wet or will it have to be wiped off first?  And consumer devices that don’t have the right peripherals to both streamline the work and reduce errors will contribute even further to lost productivity. These are things like True Serial ports to connect to industrial equipment, RFID readers with protocols you’ll never find on consumer devices, and barcode imaging systems that quickly read barcodes, even those barcodes many feet away on equipment above the worker on a pole or down in a manhole. This lack of direct connectivity, and error-prone manual data input that results, all equates to unnecessarily lost time that costs the organization. (Camera-plus-software barcode systems can’t match the speed, accuracy or range of imagers.)

Now, as I mentioned before, each organization is different and has different cost structures. Use this handy TCO calculator to enter your specific variables and see how these choices play out in your case.

But, keep in mind that even analyst-derived calculations aren’t always all-inclusive of the line items relevant to you.

For example, one thing that doesn’t appear in VDC’s TCO analysis is the issue of aligning product life cycles. If you have a 5-year plan to support one workflow, you need devices that have a matching 5-year life. This means systems with enough horsepower and memory to be viable in the future, and the flexibility to upgrade to support multiple OS generations and multiple workflow software implementations if needed. You’ll also want to ensure that the mobile computing platform is supported by an array of vehicle docks, peripherals and other accessories that will fit your current-day specs.

You want to be able to update your mobile computer to the next generation in 3-5 years without having to replace accessories too. Look specifically at carrying cases, docks, and the rest of the associated devices – have they been the same for years already? What about the device itself? Has the form factor, or really the dimensions, changed over the last few generations? And is the manufacturer planning to keep the form factor the same – and therefore offer continued compatibility with the accessories in the future? The right answer to this question is always “yes”.  Look at their historical device progression to confirm, and ask to see the manufacturers’ own roadmap if needed to increase your confidence that you’ll have the platform stability they promise.

No matter what, though: remember that there is more to the TCO stats than comparing how many cheap mobile computers will break versus the perceived “premium” sticker price for truly enterprise-grade mobile computers. Organizational and productivity costs dwarf the initial device purchase price every time and, beyond that, will determine whether your organization will have to be constantly reactive to issues or enjoy a stable platform upon which to plan and digitize the next generation operational system that works best for your workers. You won’t just lower your costs.  There are more productive uses for your IT department’s time than replacing broken field units. 

To learn more on how industry leaders are planning to transform their field operations, read the full Future of Field Operations Vision Study today.

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Bob Ashenbrenner
Bob Ashenbrenner has more than 25 years of computer engineering and engineering management experience, with 18 of those specific to mobility and the field requirements that enable real work to happen













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