Other Voices: Managing mobile devices for ROI

Mobile devices are complex. Delivering an ROI requires a disciplined, managed process.

January 15, 2014 - MMH Editorial

Editor’s Note: The following column by Jim Hilton, manufacturing principal consultant at Motorola Solutions and Chuck Roark, a principal consultant for Mobility Lifecycle Management assessments, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

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Mobile devices have moved to the center of creating value in enterprises of all shapes and sizes.  Warehouses, hospitals, manufacturing firms, the food processors and a host of others depend as much on mobile devices today as the transportation and logistics employee bringing an online purchase to your door.  Many of these industries use purpose-built devices with proprietary information and software on them.  The combination has become an essential business tool for many organizations. 

Enterprises of all sizes are deploying fleets of devices.  They drive velocity in business-critical operations, making it easier to manage complex tasks, effectively balance repetitive activities, drive service innovation and optimize value chains.  Any device’s return on investment is predicated on the idea that it contributes to desired outcomes and makes business simpler to manage.

Driving that return on investment (ROI) requires a management process, as these devices can bring their own complexity.  They have to be tracked, secured, charged, provisioned, upgraded, recovered or neutralized if lost, and sometimes replaced.  Managing fleets of devices can become cumbersome, requiring staff, training and logistics that can distract from the core business.  Even if it is not a distraction, there is a natural tendency to focus myopically on the devices themselves and neglect the business practices around them.  ROI can erode over time.

Increasingly, preserving the ROI of a device-rich environment depends in part on managing the lifecycle of devices from purchase to upgrade to replacement.  Doing it yourself is one alternative, but comes with the concerns mentioned above.  Firms have to create back-end processes and systems for managing assets that – while business-critical – are simply tools for creating value.  Fortunately, alternatives are available in the form of device life cycle management services.  Service providers can bring best-known methods to device management and consult on the business practices associated with the devices.

Whether you do it yourself or use a service provider, you need to appreciate three distinct phases in crafting a device management regime: Plan, Implement, and Run.

In the planning phase, the needs of the business are assessed and the overall lifecycle management system is crafted.  Certain issues are key and sometimes easy to overlook.  Many businesses have a season in which needs escalate.  Retail, delivery services and warehouse distribution have the end of the year holiday season.  The food industry has harvest times that are different based on crops.  The need for devices goes up by as much as half during those seasons.  This surge has to be managed both on the upside and the downside.  Deploying devices has to go smoothly, but the time following the burst season entails collecting and returning devices to inventory.  It is a prime time for losing devices.  Some devices can be assessed for refurbishment while others might need replacing before the next surge occurs.  All of these issues must be accounted for if ROI is to be maximized.

To operationalize the plan requires creating device images so they can be managed across the fleet of devices.  A crucial step to success is determining interfaces between the service provider and the customer.  Communication and project management needs to be addressed.  Monitoring and analysis tools need to be put in place.  An emerging best practice uses web-based portals to provide real-time access to information. Portals can be set up to summarize information on items such as battery discharge levels and repair status.  A portal can be used to track performance against service level agreements (SLAs) and compliance with policy.  Are devices logged in at night?  Is there a battery-charging schedule?  Both sides of the relationship can check on these mundane but important items.  Beyond the portal, service desks, staging centers and repair centers are set up.  These depots often operate at two levels: the first level is often at the customer site and operated by the customer for typical issues; the service provider operates a more extensive version of each. 

This phase is day-to-day operation.  Devices are managed across their lifecycles from purchase to obsolescence and replacement.  Usage patterns are analyzed, device images are managed, and new technologies are assessed.  From time to time, a new technology will emerge or the business will change.  Service providers can often see these trends coming before customer personnel since devices and the processes around them are not necessarily the mainstream of their businesses.  These opportunities and challenges can drive a new planning phase.

These three steps – Plan, Implement, and Run – can avoid many headaches that come with modern enterprises that depend on mobile devices.  Businesses buy mobile devices to make life easier, to service their customers better and expect to realize measurable benefits.  As mobile devices become part of the mainstream of business, managed service providers can help their customers avoid the tipping point where those devices start creating their own complexity and make it more difficult to achieve targeted ROI objectives.

Jim Hilton is the manufacturing principal consultant at Motorola Solutions. As a member of Motorola Solutions’ Professional Services Team, Jim leads strategic initiatives for manufacturing verticals and field mobility solutions across all segments of the industry.

Chuck Roark is a solutions architect for Motorola’s Mobility Lifecycle Management solution and a principal consultant for Mobility Lifecycle Management assessments across all industry verticals.


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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484 or email [email protected].


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