Is a Custom Mobile Device the Right Fit for Your Workforce?

Standardizing on a locked-down device for everyone with one form factor greatly simplifies both the user experience and tech support.

Is a Custom Mobile Device the Right Fit for Your Workforce?
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The bring your own device (BYOD) stratagem certainly did not lose many proponents during Covid. Between having to support an entire workforce from home and the explosion of the gig economy, it made great sense.

But now, current economic conditions are placing new pressures on enterprises to reduce costs. And growing cyber threats make it all the more important to have some control over devices that freely access corporate systems and services.

The issues are especially pronounced with mobile BYOD devices. Supporting users can get wildly out of hand, given the number of devices available. IT staff have to be experts on multiple platforms (Android, Apple, Microsoft, etc.). And even within one platform, users typically have newer and older devices, all with different hardware, OSes, and versions of different apps.

A shift in thinking

Given the issues of supporting devices used by mobile workers and the need to reduce costs, many organizations are opting for a different approach. Rather than use common consumer products (smartphones, tablets, etc.) that were designed for a variety of use cases, some have opted to develop a custom, purpose-built solution intended to solve their exact challenges. A purpose-built device incorporates enterprise-grade hardware, software, and design that has been created for one purpose. Such a device can also include features that address security and other business requirements.

Tyler Forst, Chief Revenue Officer at Social Mobile, finds that this approach resonates with organizations today for a variety of reasons. As the economy evolves and competition intensifies, companies must prioritize cost reduction and optimization of spending. Adopting an enterprise solution, with its extended 3–5-year lifecycle, as opposed to a consumer device with a shorter 12-month lifespan, can significantly lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Not only does the extended lifecycle spread the initial investment over a longer period, but enterprise solutions are designed to be more durable and reliable, reducing maintenance and repair costs. Additionally, enterprise solutions are often built to integrate with other enterprise systems and software, leading to increased efficiency and productivity, further contributing to a lower TCO and increased efficiency.

Factoring in TCO is the key. A casual evaluation would find that upfront costs for a consumer device would likely be less than an enterprise device. But when using TCO to evaluate products, the result is vastly different.

Forst notes that DoorDash, a Social Mobile customer, was sourcing consumer tablets before and paying third-party logistics costs to make them work. Nowadays, DoorDash, in partnership with Social Mobile, deploys its own custom-branded and purpose-built devices to merchants. That provides DoorDash complete control over the out of box experience, operating system, app upgrades, and much more. This custom solution will be deployed with over 500,000+ merchants to service DoorDash’s 20 million+ customers across the globe. To that end, the custom solution has helped DoorDash reduce its overall total cost of ownership on hardware by 60%.

Such savings have been confirmed in the past by different groups looking at the market. For example, research by VDC Research and Aberdeen Group[i] found that the average annual TCO—including upfront acquisition, deployment and training costs, support costs, and the cost of downtime—of a purpose-built device is $2,000 to $3,000, depending on the form factor. Consumer-grade devices range from $4,000 to $5,000, depending on the form factor. That equates to a roughly 42% to 60% lower TCO for purpose-built enterprise mobile devices.

Similar research by the Aberdeen Group[ii] found that a business with 1,000 mobile devices spends approximately $170,000 more per year to support consumer-grade devices than enterprise-grade devices.

Other factors to consider

Matching the device to the job

Social Mobile specializes in designing customizable mobility solutions for the enterprise. One issue that Forst notes is common when comparing the use of consumer devices to customized is a mismatch between features and requirements.

For example, if a consumer device is used, the business would likely have to opt for the latest and greatest iPhone or Samsung device, which could cost over $1,000 and have the highest-grade specs available on the market today. However, that's not what most organizations need and shouldn't have to pay for. "If your business requires a piece of hardware as a means to run your software, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles of the latest iPhone. We’re not using the device for Instagram, just to run a single application that enables your business to receive information or orders from your clients,” says Forst. “So, we're building devices to the spec for each exact use case, which brings the cost down significantly.

Ongoing support

Many consumer devices stop receiving support 12 to 18 months after they are introduced. The manufacturers start focusing on patching their newer devices, ignoring the older lines. If a device is used by an enterprise for three years, it would be increasingly difficult to source and could leave existing devices vulnerable. Forst notes that its Google license mandates that all devices receive security patches every 90 days for their entire life cycle.

User experience, tech support

Standardizing on a locked-down device for everyone with one form factor greatly simplifies both the user experience and tech support.

Every user gets onboarded to the device in the same way. If a device is lost, damaged, or has some other problem, a new one can be shipped to the user. Once received, it is exactly the same device as the one it replaced.

From a tech support perspective, the support team knows wherever there's a problem, no matter what country it's in, it's the same piece of hardware and the same platform. The team can remote into the devices, and they don't need to be trained on different systems. There is just one system, one platform to support.

A final word

Economic pressures and the increased threat of cyber-attacks have enterprises scrambling to find ways to reduce operating costs and safeguard their systems. One area that is getting new attention is to adopt customized mobile devices that are easier to manage and control.


[i] VDC Research Group, Inc. | Enterprise Mobility, "Total Cost of Ownership Models for Line of Business Mobile Solutions," December 2018.

[ii] Aberdeen Group, 2019

About the Author(s)

Salvatore Salamone, Managing Editor, Network Computing

Salvatore Salamone is the managing editor of Network Computing. He has worked as a writer and editor covering business, technology, and science. He has written three business technology books and served as an editor at IT industry publications including Network World, Byte, Bio-IT World, Data Communications, LAN Times, and InternetWeek.

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