Can I get a show of hands?  How many of you have dropped your phones in the parking lot, down the steps, in the toilet, etc?  Your whole life is on your phone: contact list, appointments, photos, and more.  In many cases, your phone may also contain business informaion, such as customer and order information, which affects your bottom line.  If this last statement is true for you (or may be true in the near future), it is crucial that you implement the right equipment when deploying a data collection system.

When you begin the search for the perfect data collection solution, you should be presented with choices for compatible equipment.  There is a whole range of rugged, enterprise, and light-industrial units available in the market today.  Which choice is right for your business and operations?  Your application may be able to run on the I-Phone, Droid, or other smartphone from your phone carrier for a great price, but are they practical?  Take a few moments to consider the following factors.

Data: Which type(s) are you collecting?  How are you collecting your data?  Are you scanning most items and locations with minor data input or are you manually entering a million things?  Do you have a full alpha-numeric keypad?  Many handheld computers come with a variety of keyboard configurations that may be more in line with your processes.
Environment: Is your warehouse or place of business dusty, dirty, Data Collection Systemdark, dank, wet, sunny, hot, cold, frozen, etc.?  All of the above?  Not all handheld computers excel in assorted conditions.  Do you wear work gloves on the job?  Are you up in a forktruck or lift where things get dropped?  Are you are out in the elements?  The swing from sunny to overcast or dry to rainy or snowy conditions can cause some headaches.  There are handhelds that can withstand the extreme environment conditions.  Some also have bright displays and can scan in darkness or direct sunlight.
Demographics: Is your workforce computer savvy?  Can they read small print?  Can they navigate effortlessly between functions?  Can they depress the right keys?  Again, choosing the right keypad and screen sizes is important for acceptance.
Batch/Real-time/WLAN/WAN: How is the data transmitted?  Can you run by downloading information in the morning, collecting data during the day, and uploading at night?  What happens when the computer gets dropped from the back of the truck?  Think RUGGED!  If your information can be transmitted real-time, either through a wireless LAN or wide-area network, then it comes down to an environmental preference.  You are up in a fork truck and your handheld computer gets dropped to a concrete floor.  Guess what usually wins?  In most cases, it is not so much the data you lose, but the time to re-deploy another unit, get the old one fixed, etc. that has the greatest effects.  Do you need to print?  Bluetooth printing works fine; however, which printer is available for your device?
I’ve seen clients try to save money on their projects by thinking that they can use “cost-effective” equipment.  Well, try scanning with a camera a few times.  Try entering a lot of data on a touch display.  Try using a phone or cheap device outside in rain or bright sunshine.  Sure, if it breaks, buy another one.  But you’ve lost data and time.  Multiply that several times and the cost of the cheap unit adds up.  Hardware manufacturers put tremendous amounts of R&D and testing into the products.  Yes, you may pay a premium, but the total cost of ownership over the life cycle of the unit is not that much different when you consider the other factors.
My advice, in short?  Avoid hassles and headaches by purchasing the right equipment first.