The exponential growth in mobile technology in recent years, and particularly since the advent of the smartphone in 2007, has given businesses and educational establishments a widening array of opportunities to untether people from their desks.

They can now work from anywhere, with tablets, smartphones and laptops, to improve productivity, flexibility and the ability to collaborate with colleagues. This newfound freedom brings with it the risk of unexpected costs if these are not addressed early on.

According to a white paper, ‘Pay Now, Save Later: The Business Case for Rugged Devices’, published by the International Data Corporation (IDC), U.S. companies have ‘wholeheartedly embraced this digital evolution’.

The IDC, an IT market intelligence analyst, reports that a survey of U.S. IT decision-makers (ITDMs) ‘showed that 86 percent of businesses… were buying, deploying and managing smartphones for their employees; 70 percent were supporting notebooks; and 62 percent were supporting tablets’.

The IDC claims that this trend has driven significant productivity gains but adds that the increased ability to work anywhere comes at a cost.

Failure rates by portable electronic device

The mobility benefit of notebooks, tablets and smartphones means that they are significantly more at risk of being damaged than traditional desktop computers.

They can be dropped onto floors, into water, be used in extreme weather conditions, or be lost or stolen. ‘When this happens productivity suffers, and costs go up,’ writes the report author Tom Mainelli.

He adds that notebooks have an annual failure rate of 18 percent, but with each year of usage this rate can increase – rising to more than 20 percent by year 5. He says that by year 5, ‘61 percent of notebooks will have a failure that will require repair’.

In contrast, the IDC finds that the annual failure rate for tablets and smartphones is respectively 15.7 percent and 13.9 percent.

The true cost of laptop ownership

Figures from Targus, who pioneered the original laptop bag in 1983 and sell a range of mobile computing cases and accessories, highlight the importance of factoring in the average cost of a laptop: $1,250-$1,900 (£1,000-£1,500).

Consider, for example, that you have 50,000 units, with a year 1 failure rate of 11 percent, equating to 5,500 units. The cost of repair of these units is $934,000 (£732,000).

Worse still, this failure rate leads to 31,900 lost hours. By year 3 the failure rate increases to 16 percent, or 8,000 units, when the cost rises to $1,364,000 (£1,068,599) and 46,400 lost hours.

Over a three-year period, this means the total cost of failure is $3,495,000 (£2,738,284), while the cost to protect the devices is $426,000 (£333,937).

With an average laptop bag cost of around $8.50 (£6.68), it clearly makes sense to protect the devices as the average repair cost is far greater at $170.00 (£133.57) with an average 5.8 hours of lost productivity time.

The importance of portable damage prevention

“Damage to hardware and particularly to screens is often the main cause of failure,” says Dave Brown, Head of Product Marketing, EMEA, at Targus.

“In terms of greater portability, the concerns are that most IT managers will equip their teams with the right tools in their office to protect hardware and increase productivity and collaboration, and for this they will provide the right accessories, while tending to forget to provide them when their staff are out of the office.”

A failure to provide damage protection whenever staff are working from home, on a train or bus, or in a café or hotel, therefore poses a significant risk that must be considered.

Buyers often have a particular budget for mobile technology, but Kevin Fleer, Senior Program Manager at D3O, stresses that they should also consider the impact of failed, lost or stolen devices (and data): “There are start-up costs and the costs of the laptops breaking, and so they also have to deal with the cost of insurance.”

However, adds Dave Brown, there is “the expectation that most leasing providers demand that hardware is protected with a suitable case or cover, helping to reduce insurance premiums and meet minimum resale values”.

Gabriele Mirone, Senior Product Designer at D3O, supports this view and also believes there needs to be more user awareness in the electronics market: “People should be more conscious of the need to protect their devices. They can do so much damage while, for example, carrying them around or riding a bike.”

Protecting devices inside and out

“Many businesspeople take their laptops everywhere, from their backpack during a busy commute to their gym bag at the end of the day.” says Kevin.

“You have these lightweight devices, and so everyone is trying to make the bags as light as possible, but there is a need to provide better protection alongside. That’s why Targus came to D3O to come up with a lightweight yet protective solution.”

He adds that screens are what people most care about because they are the most visible component of any device – be it a laptop, tablet or smartphone. People are becoming increasingly concerned with the internal components of their laptop, though.

“Just like in American football you have the shell, but you also need to protect the brains – the components inside a computer, such as a hard drive.”

To achieve this, he explains that there are two levels of protection: “The case of the device uses hardened plastic, while inside a device such as a laptop we’re trying to reduce the amount of transferred energy that can damage its components.

“The project that Targus and D3O are working on focuses on laptop bags because more and more people are taking care of what’s happening within their ‘shell’, the brains of their laptops.”

No-worries solution

“Targus is collaborating with D3O to create a no-worries solution with a collection of bags that ensure laptops are protected whether they are dropped from hand height or fall out from an overhead locker,” says Dave Brown.

Yet most organisations don’t see the benefits of the accessories. While you can blame employees for some of these issues, the leadership team should be working with IT to ensure they are supplying the right accessories to drive productivity. Then there is the issue of making sure employees use them.

“Most businesses are encouraging remote working, but they are not equipping their teams to maximise the benefits of remote working by protecting, connecting and powering the technology used by their workforces,” says Dave.

“Most companies wait for their devices to break. Salespeople may even have to make a long trip or take time off the road and out of customer meetings to get a device replaced.”

Helping users take responsibility

Dave poses the question of how to encourage more businesses and organisations to protect their laptops and their other devices.

In the commercial world, issues arise due to the culture of the business: “You will always protect something you bought personally because it’s a significant investment.

“We need to find a way to ensure that employees similarly look after the technology they are given to use for their work. It’s about providing the correct tools.

“If you don’t provide a laptop case, how do you expect them to protect the device? If you don’t give them a privacy screen, then how do you expect them to protect company and client data?”

A compelling business case for laptop protection

Companies and educational establishments can make a solid business case for committing to the upfront costs that go with enhanced protection.

“It’s about looking at the bigger picture,” says Dave. “Yes, it may seem an added expense on top of the cost of hardware, but it is minimal when you look at the total cost of ownership and the impact on productivity, collaboration and staff satisfaction levels if you don’t provide these accessories.”

Kevin agrees that the business case for enhanced protection is “very much driven by numbers. If you know that a small upfront investment in protective accessories will significantly improve the protection of your device, you are more likely to invest.

“For example, the new laptop backpack from D3O and Targus offers 40 percent more protection to the device when it falls from a desk. If you trust in the performance, you are more likely to make the upfront investment.”

He adds that if you drop the bag three to five times, the level of protection will remain the same: “After three impacts, D3O protection maintains its performance where other laptop protection systems begin to deteriorate.”

Kevin also explains that the new Targus and D3O solution only loses five percent in protective performance after three drops: “This is obviously critical as laptop bags are dropped over and over again, and the next best performing solution after D3O loses 50 percent in performance after three drops.”

He is confident that D3O’s performance consistency and market-leading technology, allowing users to extend the life of portable electronic devices, will attract business, schools and colleges to come on board.

This article was written by Graham Jarvis, a specialist business and technology writer, and was originally published in Issue 09 of IMPACT Magazine