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What do project managers want from mobile devices?

Jason Lee
April 22, 2013

Modern business leaders have long understood that IT is a driver for innovation as well as business efficiency. As a result of this, the breadth and depth of the impact of IT on business continues to grow. Increasingly organisations are relying on IT, and they are requiring ever more tailored solutions to meet their specific needs.

Mobility has been a key part of the drive for innovation, as companies seek to free their employees from being plugged into a particular desk or location in order to get their work done. In line with this drive for mobility, the market for mobile devices is growing quickly. In a very short time, tablets have gone from a niche industry product, to an object of consumer desire, through to becoming a key device in the workplace. Australian technology analyst firm Telsyte recently announced that more than 2.4 million media tablets were sold in 2012, with more than 5 million Australians using these devices.

Enterprise mobility offers flexible work options and has also been shown to increase employee productivity. This has been especially important over the past few years, which have been characterised by market volatility and uncertainty. During tough times, many businesses realise they cannot survive by simply doing the best work or becoming the most well-known. Instead, surviving is often now determined by how efficiently a business is managed.

Project managers, perhaps more than those in other industries, will be affected by the advances in capability of mobile technologies, as traditionally they have never run a project from a stationary desk. Now, with more project management software being made for tablets and mobile devices, it’s easier than ever to do more on site, and new, innovative ways for project teams to complete tasks are being presented.

The enhanced mobility of traditional work devices enables project managers to improve operational efficiencies both in the office and in the field, improve communication and provide real-time insight into activities and projects. Often on the move, project managers can easily track the progress of projects, become more agile in the field and better account for all aspects of the job from beginning to end.

But the exponential rise of mobile devices, while providing users with the capability to take their work anywhere and stay as productive as they would in an office bound environment, is ultimately creating issues for enterprise IT departments, in particular when it comes to failures in the field. As soon as a tablet becomes mobile, the risk of damage increases due to increased exposure to outdoor elements such as knocks, shocks, vibration, liquids and temperature extremes to name a few.

Fit for work

The problem of damage is often a result of attempting to slot standard products made for consumers directly into businesses, when many consumer devices are simply too fragile to take hard knocks that are frequent to business users. When using a standard device in a highly mobile environment, common events that could cause damage include dropping it, spilling liquid that infiltrates the unit, crushing or breakage caused by other objects falling on an unprotected tablet or laptop, or simply an accidental fall from a desk or overhead locker or other surface while in use. Unless the unit is built to withstand this kind of treatment, it could result in cracked display screens, hard disk failure and even inoperable keyboards.

Damage to mobile devices is a significant business issue, and according to insurance company, Square Trade, one out of 10 consumers reported failure rates resulting from accidental damage within the first 12 months of owning one of the most popular tablet models. To give you an appreciation of what it takes to damage one of these devices, scores of videos on YouTube suggest that a waist-high tumble can be enough for many of these devices to suffer serious or even fatal damage, and recent research has showed that 73% of tablet damage is caused by the unit being dropped.

Unfortunately as mobile devices become more ubiquitous in the workplace, the chances of people dropping their device only increases. We have seen that the more common a device is, the less careful employees tend to become.

One solution to this problem is to bypass regular consumer devices and equip employees with devices that are inherently rugged and made for outdoor use and a high amount of travel.

Many companies are now making devices that suit these business needs such as Panasonic’s ‘business rugged’ line-up that includes a practical Convertible Ultrabook which is designed to withstand the hard knocks of life on the road, with higher durability than consumer-grade notebooks. Also, for those jobs that are tougher than the rest, Panasonic also makes a military grade rugged Toughpad, which is drop resistant from a height of 120cm—higher than tumbles from most desks and table tops—and resistant to water and dust, both of which can frequently play havoc with devices when out on the road.

Additionally, technology such as anti-glare multi-touch display is now a great option on business devices, producing exceptionally bright images that can be seen in almost any workplace environment, outside or inside.

Business communications have changed dramatically in recent years with email and web conferencing replacing phone calls and personal visits as the communication methods of choice, and so well-designed communications devices are becoming even more indispensable for effective project management.

Looking ahead, the technology landscape for project managers is developing to becoming even more vibrant and accessible, as mobile devices become more affordable, rugged and suitable to their unique needs.

Jason Lee
Jason Lee is the Toughbook product marketing manager at Panasonic Australia. He has extensive experience in the professional audio-visual field.
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