Britain's emergency services could cut costs considerably by investing in and deploying more built-for-purpose "rugged" technology tablets and laptops rather than users stretching cheaper adapted consumer market products beyond design limits.

Getac, whose European offices are in Telford, UK, is one of the world's leading designers and manufacturers of rugged mobile technology, with experience in utility, oil & gas and military sectors - and will soon be introducing a healthcare-focussed product.

"We have seen consumer-market brand technology failures of up to 50% within six weeks of introduction to punishing 'critical working environments' similar to those experienced by the UK emergency services - and there's inevitably a cost associated with failure," said Peter Molyneux, President of Getac in the UK.

"Frankly, there are some good consumer products working well in lighter-duty business and emergency service applications, but consumer technology is simply not designed for the daily demands of specifically critical working environments experienced by the emergency services, or some business, industrial and field service sectors.

"The issue is that while rugged technology is a longer-term investment, the emergency services are understandably taking a short-term view on spending based on their currently extremely tight budgets.

"Estimation of total cost of ownership of consumer technology in critical working environments should be based on the expected working life of the device chosen - typically three years. This needs to include both the direct costs of purchase and the indirect costs of service and support. Longevity of supply and support of the device in the field must also be taken into consideration: consumer technology refreshes every six to eight months and therefore may not be supported across the duration of the project.

"A consumer-market tablet cost of £550 including a 'rugged' case would typically return an annual field failure level of 25%, and possibly above, when used in demanding working environments. A purpose-built rugged tablet will cost £1,750 with a three-year warranty and support package with an expected field failure rate sub-3% over three years. That's three times the initial cost, but a significant improvement on operational life expectancy, and minimum down-time in the field. The cost of failure in a life-treating environment is impossible to calculate.

"Rugged equipment isn't just more resilient but has features not available in consumer-facing products – high performance RF antennas and accurate GPS, and a higher level of integration, for example even a 1/2D bar code reader. Operational efficiency and true mobility is delivered by a built-for-purpose feature set of which ruggedisation is just one component.

"We speak from experience: we regularly support customer field trials and business case completion to ensure understanding of the total cost of ownership and return on investment in rugged technology versus consumer products.

"Our experience tells us that the UK's Fire Services can actually be tougher on technology, by necessity, than even the military.

"There are two issues when it comes to using technology in the field: does it have the features and technical capability to allow a healthcare or emergency services professional to do their job, but, crucially, does it have the resilience to keep working in sometimes extremely hostile environments? The fact is that even good consumer-market tablets and laptops, even if they are in toughened cases, will fail to perform in a demanding working environment.

"Purpose-built rugged technology, such as produced by Getac, has features designed specifically for harsh environments. Not only does it survive drops, impacts and exposure to liquids, but Getac's DNA as a manufacturer of rugged computer equipment for the military means that it has performance - and the service and support infrastructure - which is simply not readily available on consumer technology."

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