Surviving in a tough world

Surviving in a tough world

There are plenty of new opportunities opening up in the rugged computing space for those resellers seeking better margins.

It doesn't seem so long ago that mobile rugged computing referred to bulky boxes sold for $20,000 a pop into very limited niche markets such as the Department of Defence.

Today, while they have by no means become a mass market seller, the variety of mobile rugged devices and their price points would suggest a growing taste for devices that can handle the tough work environments common in Australia.

Devices such as slate-tablet PCs and handhelds are now appearing in tenders alongside the rugged notebook computers that first dominated the category, and many mass market manufacturers are also including features in their high-end models that recognise the need for more durable machines.

Outside of Defence and utilities, rugged computers are sought after in verticals such as mining and resources, emergency services, government and education.

The category provides fatter margins for resellers that can handle long sales cycles and manage the heightened risk. While your average laptop computer might fetch a margin of 3 per cent, a ruggedised model can reach as high as 10 per cent.

Manager of Panasonic's Toughbook range of rugged PCs, Steve Hall, said associated services and the opportunity to build strong customer relationships were even more compelling for resellers.

"Hardware is just one component, you also tend to be selling integration services," he said. "Anybody working outdoors needs to access data from a back-end system and send data back to it."

Hall said the introduction of cost-effective mobile data networks such as 3G and CDMA had improved take-up of rugged computing by significant volumes because field workers could now connect at reasonable speeds and prices.

Rugged computers were fast becoming an essential technology for those that work outdoors. Generally speaking, these workers had little interest in the technology and only saw the machine as another tool. Other computing assets at their disposal, such as testing equipment, tend to be ruggedised so the PC is often treated with a similar level of recklessness.

"You are looking at users working in everything from waste disposal to highly-skilled technical applications," Hall said. "The machine needs to be able to resist regular knocks and drops."

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