Extended Warranties for Mobile Hardware?
I’m writing this issue today to highlight a persistent trend in the enforcement industry; hardware and its support is not paid nearly enough credit in proportion to the value it is required to add to an operation.
Mobile devices are required to function as a mission critical component to city operations; all the while being dropped, rained on, subject to employee loss and theft, and sometimes, ingesting as much coffee as their operators.
For an efficient enforcement program to exist, these two critical components, software and hardware, must work harmoniously, but there’s a tough reality; no hardware will ever be rugged enough to stand up to every rigor, every time.
With this said, software providers, as a general rule, do not manufacture their own compatible mobile device to act as the data collection & issuance instrument on the front end. They are at the mercy of hardware designers and manufacturers to see enough potential in a vertical market such as parking enforcement to keep innovating. There are a dozen software companies in the enforcement space and only a handful (or fewer) manufacturers producing hardware that is suitable for parking enforcement.
After spending nearly thirty years with a hardware manufacturer I am painfully aware of the considerations and complications surrounding application specific hardware. When hardware is designed, it is designed with the intention that it can be applied to multiple vertical markets and that the anticipated sales volumes will justify the expenditure for engineers to design, tool, manufacture and test the resulting device. Historically, hardware suitable for the parking vertical has been substantially overhauled only every five years. The largest and most recent enhancements have been moving from WiFi connected technology to real time data, the inclusion of a camera within the device, increased processor speed and the inclusion of an onboard printer allowing for an all in one approach as opposed to a two piece solution.
Here’s the problem; as a symptom of this imbalance between the functionality software companies want to provide, and what hardware providers allow us to provide, there has been a growing detachment, and unwillingness for many software providers to directly support hardware.
The logic here is simple: “Let’s stick with what we’re good at: software, and let our customers figure out the hardware!”, but this is bad news for enforcing organizations. The cell phones and belt mounted printers that are proliferated by this approach are simply not designed for the rigors of enforcement. Most cell phones are not designed to be dropped or rained on, let alone to function in extreme hot or cold, and the model you purchase for your department this year will probably not be the device sold by your provider to customers in that year.
In conclusion, when purchasing or upgrading a parking management system, make sure that:
- your provider has a true hardware partner, meaning that they fully vet their hardware offerings and have a meaningful relationship with the manufacturer, and
- if given the option, always buy the warranty.
No one can predict the future, and, as highlighted, even the best devices can fail.
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