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What are rugged devices?

Rugged devices are types of hardware specifically designed to operate in challenging environmental conditions with extreme temperatures, water, dust, vibration, and other potential hazards.

There are several types of rugged devices in use today. Some of the most common examples include rugged versions of:

  • Mobile computers
  • Notebooks
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Scanners
  • Handheld barcode scanners
  • Head-mounted wearables

There are three categories of rugged devices, including semi-rugged, fully rugged, and ultra-rugged.

  • Semi-rugged devices can withstand low to moderate environmental hazards. They typically feature the same internal components as commercial hardware but contain slight modifications that make them more durable.
  • Fully rugged devices are specially designed to handle heavy environmental hazards. They are typically resistant to water, vibrations, shock and dust.
  • Ultra-rugged: Ultra-rugged devices can handle the most extreme conditions. These devices are typically deployed in military and heavy industrial environments like mines, oil refineries and manufacturing facilities.
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How are rugged devices used?

Rugged devices are typically corporate-owned, single use (COSU)—meaning they are owned and managed by a company through an enterprise mobility program. Employees often share rugged devices during shifts and use them for specific tasks.

Rugged devices support daily business operations in the same way that consumer devices do. In other words, they allow workers to access critical applications, interface with backend computing systems and streamline data entry and reporting.The main difference is that rugged devices are much more durable and reliable, making them ideal for frontline and deskless workers who perform their duties in the field with unpredictable weather conditions and other operational hazards.

Rugged device challenges

Rugged devices are now a core part of the employee experience for frontline and deskless workers who need them to complete mission-critical tasks in unconventional settings. In many ways, these devices are essential tools for accessing information, generating reports, and communicating with team members.

Despite this, rugged devices tend to pose challenges for workers and IT teams. Frontline organizations must anticipate and reduce these challenges to empower workers and increase productivity.

Common challenges for workers include:

  • Extra size and weight: Rugged devices tend to be bulkier and heavier than traditional consumer devices. They can be inconvenient to carry or transport between workstations. They can also be challenging for workers with physical disabilities and mobility impairments.
  • Device and application downtime: Device and application downtime can disrupt operations and prevent employees from completing their workflows. This can lead to safety issues, project delays, unhappy customers, and financial loss.
  • Connectivity issues: Rugged devices need stable connectivity to enable communication, connect to resources and facilitate data transfers. This requires optimized network infrastructure, strong Wi-Fi, and reliable cellular coverage.

Challenges for IT include:

  • Device management: Rugged devices require provisioning, configuration, enrollment, and daily monitoring and tracking. In addition, IT must ensure devices receive regular software and security updates. This can create additional administrative burdens, which can be challenging for small and understaffed IT departments.
  • Protecting corporate data: Frontline and deskless workers typically operate outside of a controlled workspace. It’s critical to have role-based access controls and policies in place to protect corporate data at rest and in transit as users move between different networks and environments throughout the day.
  • System integration: IT teams need to integrate rugged devices with various systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP), inventory management and customer relationship management (CRM) software. This can be a complex and time-consuming process—especially when devices require custom application programming interfaces (APIs) or other supporting resources.
  • Device maintenance: Rugged devices generate more wear and tear than regular consumer devices due to daily environmental exposure. IT must have the resources in place to manage and maintain devices across their entire lifecycle and make timely replacements when necessary.

What use cases do rugged devices support?

Rugged devices are becoming increasingly popular across a growing number of use cases, due to advancements in security, connectivity, battery life, durability, and user experience. According to IDC, rugged mobility is now a core enterprise technology that many businesses and workers rely on to enable critical workflows. Most businesses that deploy rugged mobile devices remain reliant on them because they enable critical use cases in environments that are too difficult for consumer-grade mobile solutions.

Here are some common use cases for rugged devices:

  • Retail: Rugged devices help with tasks like processing transactions, scanning barcodes during inventory, and providing customers with accurate pricing information. Retailers can also integrate rugged devices with retail management software to access data regarding sales trends and customer behavior.
  • Field services: Workers rely on rugged devices to run field tests, communicate with managers and other technicians and complete work orders. In addition, rugged devices help demonstrate safety and compliance through features like lone worker monitoring and location tracking. Many field workers are also using rugged devices to run digital applications and migrate away from traditional paper-based management systems.
  • Logistics and supply chain management: Warehouse teams, managers and drivers use rugged devices to scan barcodes, track inventory and communicate throughout the day. Rugged devices also provide navigation support, enable drivers to capture digital signatures and make it possible to deliver real-time status updates.
  • Healthcare: Frontline medical teams use rugged devices in busy, fast-paced healthcare environments. Rugged devices are useful for collecting and accessing electronic healthcare records (EHR), performing on-the-go tests and analysis, accessing restricted areas, and administering medicine.
  • Public safety: Rugged devices play a crucial role in public safety, helping emergency response teams with real-time field communication, situational awareness, and incident coordination. They also make it easier to input data in the field and are reliable in extreme or hazardous conditions like cold temperatures, fires, and heavy rain.

Simplify device management with Workspace ONE UEM

Frontline organizations have an ever-growing number of corporate and employee-owned devices to manage. Without a comprehensive mobile device management system in place, it can be impossible to effectively provision, track and maintain devices, increasing the likelihood of costly security incidents.

VMware Frontline Workers solutions provide cloud native unified endpoint management (UEM). Workspace ONE makes it easy to gain control over all endpoints, regardless of their platform or ownership model. You can use this platform to manage mission-critical frontline devices from a single console, set custom policies and instantly provision new devices from any location. The platform also enables role-based access control and Zero Trust security for enhanced data protection.

Related Solutions and Products

Workspace ONE for Rugged Device Management

From rugged handheld mobile computers to head-mounted wearables, quickly and easily stage, manage and support mission-critical devices used by frontline workers with Workspace ONE for Rugged Device Management. 

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Frontline workers have different technology requirements than desk-based employees. 

Workspace ONE Unified Endpoint Management

Get a single cloud native solution for unified endpoint management (UEM) of any device (desktop, mobile, wearables, rugged, IoT) for any use case.