Staying Connected to Today’s Mobile Workforce Trends
The value of a rugged 2-in-1 tablet goes beyond its physical flexibility. The size of the global utility industry’s field-based workforce has doubled in recent years, and mobile workers will soon make up 60% of the total U.S. workforce. If these employees are to do their jobs effectively, they must have the right device form factor for all their workspaces and the right device features for all workflows. This is the notion of “workforce transformation.” More digital-based work is happening in the field, which means more content creation and content consumption is happening. The 2-in-1 form factor is the logical device to enable.
For example, we know a laptop-like device is important for many front-line workers. But laptops don’t always have multiple USB ports, much less HDMI-in, True Serial or RJ-45 input/output (I/O) – not even the convertible ones marketed for business use. Yet, in customer surveys Zebra recently conducted, critical field service workers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) technicians and utility professionals all agreed a single USB port is not sufficient. There are multiple ancillary devices and accessories they must connect to during the day, including printers and testing/diagnostic equipment. They need their “office” – business applications, data, collaboration tools – centralized on one device, and that requires I/O. It also means that built-in barcode scanners, Common Access Card (CAC) reader and antenna pass-throughs are must-have features. But it’s rare to find a laptop with one of these, much less all three. That’s because most laptops aren’t made for intense field use…or manufacturing applications…or public safety.
Rugged 2-in-1 tablets, on the other hand, are made exclusively for these types of mobile workers. So, they offer all the above capabilities and more: push-to-talk communications and collaboration tools, super-bright (800 nit) screens, and universal docks (that offer up to 9 extra I/O ports). These features, though not necessarily important to consumers, are mission-critical to professionals. They are what enable front-line workers to stay productive everywhere they go and transition from one place or task to the next without having to transfer data from one device to another.
Imagine a police officer called to the scene of an accident. With a rugged 2-in-1 in hand, they can run driver’s licenses, validate insurance and registrations, take pictures of the vehicles, document statements, get signatures from those involved, and submit reports right on the spot – without having to return to the patrol vehicle once. If they get called to another incident while clearing this scene, they can use the tablet to respond to dispatch, report their location, get debriefed and even coordinate with other responding agencies while en route. And with advanced 4G/5G cellular technology, officers out in the field remain connected to other team members and the critical information they need, no matter where they are called to assist.
Utility linemen can also bring their 2-in-1 tablets with them to calls to help guide and expedite actions. They can access GIS maps, scan barcodes (if available) to retrieve asset history and model information, pull up instruction manuals, report work order status and even call remote specialists for help if needed. They can call in remote expert help, take pictures of the repair or install, and even hang the tablet securely in the bucket lift when they need to free up their hands. If they only want to bring the tablet into the field – perhaps to control a pipeline inspection drone or run a quick diagnostic check of a node – they can detach the keyboard and leave it in the vehicle. When ready to submit a report or return the tablet to the vehicle dock, they can just reattach the keyboard.
At the same time, manufacturing or delivery team members who need to frequently capture videos or photos for proof of condition, delivery or service will tell you they don’t want to lug around a laptop all day long – or have to work across two devices, such as a handheld and laptop. So, a rugged 2-in-1 tablet that can instantly convert between a mobile and laptop-like form factor is highly valuable. Plus, some of the latest rugged 2-in-1 tablets come with Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, which is beneficial when the tablets are being used to control or communicate with robots or run augmented reality apps.
So, if you’re giving your mobile workers laptops because the clamshell design has always been the common (or perhaps most cost-effective) choice for mobile workers, remember these aren’t workers who occasionally have to go offsite for customer meetings in a coffee shop or board room. And a laptop isn’t cost effective if it breaks often because it’s used by someone who climbs ladders, crawls in small spaces to inspect electrical wiring, or otherwise works in areas not so friendly to electronic devices.
Okay, I’ll admit, rugged laptops could technically be an option considering they tend to have similar feature sets to rugged 2-in-1 tablets. But have you held a rugged laptop lately? Or tried to lift it out of a vehicle mount? Even though many models have dropped a few pounds over the years, there’s a reason why many workers are still leaving them in vehicles all day long – and why more than half of 2-in-1 detachable tablets will probably be mounted in vehicles in the next few years.
Laptops aren’t well suited for field-based workers, except for when they’re sitting in a parked truck or car or only in the field for a fraction of their shifts.
If it’s time to replace your mobile workers’ laptops – or you’re just tired of hearing them say “I’ll send that report in when I get back to the office” – then start looking at your rugged 2-in-1 tablet options. Don’t waste any more time or money buying or managing laptops that aren’t really keeping them productive and connected. They check all the boxes for those who need a large screen and handheld mobile computer feature sets, along with some specialized toolsets. And they offer a truly handheld and desktop form factor in one device.
Plus, some newer rugged 2-in-1 tablets have friction hinge keyboards that give workers a laptop-like experience. So, people may not even notice they don’t have a real laptop until they need a tablet. Then they’ll notice a huge difference. They’ll finally be able to get work done from their “office,” wherever that may be today.