Enabling Workflow through Rugged Tablets
Since it was first introduced to consumers back in April of 2010, Apple’s now-ubiquitous iPad has helped to popularize the use of tablet computers, something Peter Poulin is grateful for – despite the fact he works for one of the companies that introduced tablet computers many years before Apple.
“We laugh about it sometimes,” says Mr. Poulin. “Apple got consumers excited about tablets, which we were building long before the iPad, and even before the iPod. We launched tablets back in 2001, and have been delivering them to commercial and public sector customers for over 12 years.”
As Vice President of Marketing for Motion Computing, Mr. Poulin is proud of the company’s past accomplishments, ongoing customer solutions, technological innovation, and wide-reaching experience for mobile professionals in industries such as healthcare, government, field force automation, and public safety areas such as law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas – which is often referred to as Silicon Hills for its decades of technological innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and founding location of companies such as Dell – Motion Computing attracts the best and brightest talent to work on its many solutions for customers. With over 25 years of executive leadership experience in a range of areas, including sales, marketing and general management, Mr. Poulin spent 13 years at computer company Compaq. Working for a number of established corporations and successful start-ups, he has been with Motion Computing now for over a year, and brought with him a wealth of experience to help transform the popular privately owned company and ensure the market understands that Motion is more than a tablet company.
Although Motion Computing has been in business for over a decade and earned a reputation as one of the foremost makers of rugged tablets, the company is about a great deal more. “One of the things that is different about us is that Motion does not define itself as a tablet company,” comments Mr. Poulin of Motion, which is unlike other companies who build general purpose devices for consumers and, in some cases, businesses to use. “Increasingly, our customers think of Motion as a mobile workflow enablement company, and what that means is, it’s not just about the tablet. If you think about enabling the entire workflow for your customers, you’ve got to think not just about the tablet: what about the wireless infrastructure which is foundational to being able to communicate with the device? What about all the key peripherals, things like vehicle docks that need to meet safety requirements in crash tests?”
Putting the needs of customers first, Motion Computing always investigates new products and solutions based on customer need and input. As anyone who has invested in any type of computer in recent years knows, you are only as good as your peripherals. To many home users, peripherals include basic items as a printer or a scanner; to corporate and government clients, these can include devices for safety, security, retail inventory, monitoring, and more, such as RFID readers with long-distance ranges, docking stations for tablets in police cars, payment devices, payment devices for retail, bar code readers, and more. Typically, a software element is associated with these peripherals, and it is important for Motion clients to not only rely on their rugged tablets, but count on the fact that associated peripheral products and software will continue to function properly for years to come.
The worldwide rugged tablet market leader in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Motion Computing focuses on eight primary workflows that drive product design, with one being maintenance and repair. This workflow is common to several of Motion’s key verticals, including Utilities, Construction, and Manufacturing. Clients include Pacific Gas & Electric, Kiewit Construction, Boeing, Embraer, Audi, and Volkswagen to name a few.
As part of Motion’s considerable operational flexibility, the company has Configure to Order (CTO) capabilities, which offers customers considerable flexibility relative to product configurations, ensuring they get exactly what they want, do not have to purchase components they do not need, and can keep costs down as a result. For a large rail transportation company, the company created an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID solution, which allows workers to stand on a platform and read the RFID tags on railway cars going by, with a read range of 10 feet. “They said they needed it, and we built it,” says Mr. Poulin. “That is something our competitors cannot, or rarely will, do.”
Realizing that the company is only as strong as the partners it works with, Motion Computing has carefully cultivated and fostered relationships with software industry leaders, strong reseller partners, and leading hardware vendors with the objective of helping customers find the exact combination of products and services to support all their mobile computing needs.
This workflow ecosystem delivers mobile computing solutions on a global basis. Motion Computing has a robust channel partner program which is continuously enhanced to address the evolving needs of its partner community, and the customers it serves. Along with partners Intel and Microsoft, Motion successfully introduced the Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), a tablet specifically for healthcare. The MCA enables clinicians to monitor and capture patient information at the point-of-care, and integrates with existing EMR platforms. One of the challenges of these clinical environments is that devices would be disinfected with a harsh disinfecting solution, which had the unfortunate effect of bleaching keyboards white and making them impossible to read.
The solution? A partnership with ATS Inc. Instead of using destructive solutions to disinfect tablets, ReadyDock is a chemical-free disinfection station that stores, charges, locks, and uses Ultraviolet rays to safely and effectively disinfect tablets, all in one easy process.
In public safety fields such as law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services, many are shifting away from laptop computers and favouring easier-to-use rugged tablets. “While our brand may be best known in health care, field service industries represent our largest verticals… and public safety is growing rapidly,” shares Mr. Poulin. Some, like police departments, can use them as multi-function devices, removing them when they leave their vehicle to hand a driver a ticket, or working with the built-in camera to document an accident scene. To assist customers, Motion Computing acquired an in-vehicle solutions company, and now has a line of in-vehicle mounting solutions along with partnerships with preferred installers.
“The form factor really lends itself to higher levels of productivity,” remarks Mr. Poulin, noting that the company has a number of former police officers on staff to advise on product design and other elements. Rugged laptops are also displacing rugged handheld devices. It is the multifunctionality of the devices; in the past, ruggedized handheld devices were largely single purpose; today, rugged tablets can be designed with cameras, video recorders, and more built in, thereby eliminating the need for multiple devices and saving costs.
Motion Computing’s rugged tablets can now be found in many areas. Originally used in the retail sector for back of house activities like inventory management, tracking, and warehouse work, the tablets have migrated to front of the house areas and are regularly used in busy stores for line-busting – taking customer information to enable mobile workflows – and busy quick-serve restaurants, where they are connected to point of sale (POS) systems. One customer, sports apparel company Finish Line, uses the devices in 1700 stores as replacements for cash wraps, since they take up less space and the device can be removed from its docking station if needed.
“They can be used in multiple ways, or even as a self-serve kiosk,” says Mr. Poulin of the rugged tablets. Another advantage is that customers can use existing software because it is Microsoft-based; there is no need to write a new application. While other non-Windows tablet companies may have new application software available, those solutions are often no longer compatible with existing peripherals such as printers, scanners, and bar code readers, forcing customers to buy all-new products. Since Motion Computing takes the approach of a mobile workflow enablement company, not a tablet company, the team looks at complete customer product solutions. Taking on a “day in the life” approach, Motion staff will work with customers over an entire day, determining their every mobile need. In the case of a utility worker, they will check all computing needs from the moment he or she goes to the office, reads emails, downloads work orders (via a docking station), leaves the office with work orders in his or her truck, performs maintenance and repair tasks in the field, and returns to the office. Features such as a vehicle docking station equipped with an extra battery charger, GPS capabilities and more can be incorporated.
“Our product roadmaps aren’t tablets; our product roadmaps are workflow platforms,” states Mr. Poulin. “We don’t launch a product that’s just a tablet, it has to be a workflow solution that includes all the pieces.”
As important as workflows are, they cannot be achieved without the right robust wireless infrastructure, something Motion realized early on. “We’ve actually designed over 47 million square feet of wireless infrastructure in the health care space alone,” says Mr. Poulin. Out of necessity, the company became more involved in wireless design and deployment, which is especially important at construction sites, oil rigs, and disaster sites. “Customers needed something that was easy to deploy, rugged, didn’t require IT assistance, had configuration flexibility (Mesh, WiFi, Cellular, Satellite), and was constantly repeatable.” The company now has such a product, which is being tested with customers and is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year.
“This is an example of our differentiation in the market, because we don’t think of ourselves as a tablet company. This new wireless solution certainly supports our tablets, but can be configured to support a variety of devices. Our initial beta site used a mix of our tablets and other tablets,” comments Mr. Poulin. “So when we design those things, we are thinking about enabling those mobile workflows. And if that’s not our tablet, we’re not going to say, ‘You can’t use third-party tablets,’ because that’s not going to help our customers. That’s an example of where this company is going.”