By Mike Lanciloti, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, Spectralink

Smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly common in the enterprise domain, keeping BYOD firmly on the minds of IT managers. But despite portability and the ability to access critical content on the go, there are many reasons why consumer-grade smartphones might not be the smart choice for business. For workers in certain environments such as hospitals, retail stores and warehouses, consumer smartphones are not equipped to deal with the stresses and strains of that environment. Nor do they provide the voice quality necessary when dealing with messages that have a direct bearing on the welfare of customers or patients.

Privacy and Security

Unsurprisingly, security is one of the top concerns when it comes to using mobile devices to access sensitive business data. Smartphones are designed to access and share data in the cloud, increasing the potential for data to be duplicated and moved between applications. This makes tasks such as protecting the confidentiality of protected information a huge challenge.

Using purpose-built mobile devices that only work within the confines of the building can ensure data is kept secure and help prevent costs from spiralling due to loss, theft or extra security measures. This way, confidential data can be accessed via the handsets within the building, but not when the device leaves the wireless network. Plus, there is no data stored on the device itself.

Integration and Management

For organisations willing to let employees select or bring their own devices, the IT department has to deal with a range of systems, products and platforms. While employees may find increased satisfaction, IT teams may find maintaining and integrating these devices is a complicated, if not impossible, task.

Where employees need to access critical business data, ensuring integration with existing telephony systems is vital. New handsets enter the market constantly, and firmware updates and fixes are released every few weeks. IT support will be inevitably stretched to meet these new demands and upgrades.

Call and Phone Quality

Making and receiving voice calls is still the primary use for mobile communications within most working environments. Interrupted or dropped calls can create frustration as well as be potentially dangerous when relaying messages that have a direct bearing on patient care or customer service. It’s critical to maintain the equivalent voice quality, reliability and functionality as is expected from a wired telephone.

Conventional mobile contracts for this kind of mass use would involve huge costs; many IT departments would need to use Wi-Fi systems for communications. One of the greatest challenges for smartphones within the work environment is delivering acceptable voice quality when using in-building Wi-Fi networks.

User Productivity

While mobile devices can enable productivity, used incorrectly they can also hinder it. The personal use of mobile devices at work can create disruptive situations. Mobile employees are more likely to get distracted, taking attention away from the task in hand and reducing overall productivity.

Additionally, problems like insufficient battery life can lead to costly delays due to missed communications. Smartphones often suffer from poor battery life, leaving them unsuitable for long working days or use across shifts. Purpose-built devices are built to alleviate specific fundamental issues such as swapping batteries at the beginning of a shift. These devices make it easy for nurses or shop floor staff to clock out, swap the battery, and hand off the same device to the next worker beginning their shift.

Total Cost of Ownership

When exploring the cost of implementing smartphones in an organisation, IT management should look at several ‘hidden’ areas of cost. These can include lack of durability, potential for theft, support requirements and accessories (such as extra security applications and protective covers). The cost burden should be judged over the device’s lifetime of usage, not just the initial cost of procurement.

Consumer devices are rarely durable enough for the rigours of the workplace environment. Impact, droppage and chemical cleansers can easily damage devices not equipped to cope. They also usually have short lifecycles, before a new ‘improved’ version is available. Keeping pace with these upgrades is near impossible for most organisations, let alone an industry seeing spending cuts and freezes.

The smart choice?

As smartphones continue to extend their march into the workplace, it is becoming increasingly clear that they are not always the right choice for the specialised needs of specific working environments such as those experience in healthcare, retail and manufacturing.

In the case of organisations that have a large number of mobile employees, the benefits of purpose-built devices easily outweigh the fragile nature of smartphones – weak call quality with in-building wireless networks, high total cost of ownership and poor battery performance all of which impact productivity. Given the rigours, regulations and requirements attached to the workplace environment some devices can be more of a hindrance than a help.