The biggest challenge most companies face when choosing to deploy and use corporate-owned single-use devices is learning how to operationally deploy and manage physical assets.
In most cases, the core competencies of the organizations building these products lie in software, but the processes, challenges, and complexities of deploying and managing software are much different than those of deploying and managing hardware. Having the proper operational infrastructure in place is critical as you start to plan scaling beyond a few dozen devices.
In this post, we’ll look at the key operational challenges specifically related to scaling a business and product built on dedicated devices, including provisioning, warehousing, kitting, logistics, and international support.
Setting the Stage
Before diving into the operational infrastructure it’s important to understand the three primary methods for creating a dedicated device. We’ll reference these when outlining the considerations below.
- Consumer Method: This means repurposing a consumer off-the-shelf device (such as a smartphone) and pairing it with software or a mobile device management solution to lock the device into a single use.
- DIY Method: This method requires designing and manufacturing the device and pairing it with a customized operating system that’s built for your use case — either by your team or by the device manufacturer.
- Mobile Infrastructure Method: This is a vendor with infrastructure offering that combines enterprise-first mobile devices, developer tools to create a custom OS locked down to your apps, and cloud services to manage your device fleet.
Each of these options has different aspects you need to consider as you think about growing from one device to thousands of devices. If you don’t have the proper ops and logistics infrastructure in place, you risk running up massive overhead expenses, opening yourself up to legal liabilities, and even losing clients — which can drastically slow business growth or force you to shutter operations entirely.
Mobile device provisioning is the process of taking a stock device and getting it all the software and settings set up so it’s ready to be delivered to your end users. The level of work that goes into this varies depending on how you’ve built your product (consumer versus DIY versus mobile infrastructure) and whether you’re using in-house or outsourced operations.
At the highest level, it typically involves the following steps:
- Loading any apps (both your own and third-party ones) or content your product requires
- Configuring the device settings (e.g., connecting to Wi-Fi, configuring the MDM software to lock down the device, and restricting access to the apps)
The biggest provisioning challenges are related to quality, consistency, and setup. Often, the provisioning process requires manual inputs, which prolong the setup time and heighten the potential for human error — both of these increase the cost, risk, and liability, ultimately making it harder and slower to scale your business.
Consumer considerations: Because you’re taking a device and OS designed for consumers and retrofitting it for a single-use environment, the provisioning process for the consumer method is the most tedious. It requires you to load your app, install your MDM software, and manually configure any settings. Certain services can automate some of these processes (such as Apple’s Device Enrollment Program), but they’re often expensive and reliant on third parties. This gives you less overall control over the quality. Another consideration is the challenge around making sure that everything still works as expected as different software versions change – specifically the operating system. Because the base OS version is likely to change frequently on consumer devices, you may run into problems ensuring that your app or third-party lock-out software still function as expected on the device.
DIY considerations: In this method, the manufacturer will load your app, your custom OS, and any other content you need. The good news? The device is ready to go straight out of the box. The bad news? Because these devices are being produced in bulk, the manufacturer often prefers that every device be configured and set up the same way, so you’ll encounter challenges if you need to update or modify how the device is provisioned. For example, if you need slightly different settings or app configurations for different customers and end-users.
Mobile infrastructure considerations: Most mobile infrastructure providers make this process seamless. Mason, for example, provides customizable and scalable zero-touch provisioning. You designate a device to a specific profile, and when the device is turned on for the first time and connected to the internet, it automatically downloads those apps and settings. Because everything is fully integrated — from the hardware to the OS to the platform — there’s no manual interaction, no required third-party setup, and the specific configuration can be customized as needed on a device-by-device basis.
Warehousing is a necessary evil in the world of managing and scaling your fleet of dedicated devices. It’s unfortunate because warehousing equals inventory — and no one wants to have inventory on the books. In a perfect world, devices could be ordered and fulfilled as needed so you can scale devices the same way you scale servers. Alas, this is not a perfect world (yet).
The biggest challenge in warehousing is maintaining ideal conditions to preserve the quality of your devices. You’ll need to control the temperature and humidity, secure access to the facility, and conserve battery health, among other things. For example, if devices will be held in a warehouse for three-plus months, you’ll want to ensure they’re not getting too low on battery but aren’t stored at 100%, either. Lithium-ion batteries should be stored in a charged state of 40%.
When it comes to comparing options, every method will encounter the same challenges mentioned above — the key difference is who the burden will fall on.
Consumer considerations: The significant advantage of this route is that you can essentially order the devices on-demand. The burden of warehousing then falls on the supplier. On the other hand, you risk delays if the device models you use aren’t available, which impedes the provisioning process and prolongs customers’ lead times. You could also store the devices yourself, which requires a team and facility, or through a third party, both of which add extra costs.
DIY considerations: This will almost certainly obligate you to hold inventory because your manufacturer will require you to hit larger minimum order quantities. However, you can often set up an agreement with the manufacturer to warehouse the devices in a suitable environment. If the manufacturer stores the units overseas, then costs won’t be as high, but the lead times will be much longer because you’ll be shipping from overseas and will likely want the units sent to you first for provisioning or quality assurance before they can go to your customers.
Mobile infrastructure considerations: This option gives you a bit more flexibility. In some cases, depending on your provider, you will actually be able to order devices on-demand as you can in the Consumer model. If this isn’t an option, you will likely need to place a larger order. However, the order volume should be significantly less than in the DIY route because your vendor will have existing relationships with the manufacturer, and will be ordering devices to fulfill more orders than just yours (e.g. a 5,000 unit MOQ could be split across multiple customers). When it comes to managing this inventory, your mobile infrastructure provider should have a variety of warehousing options and services available if you do not want to set up and manage your own. For example, at Mason, this includes warehousing stateside for quicker orders and internationally for better cost savings.
Kitting is the process of physically preparing the device for shipment. This may range from inserting and activating a SIM card, to setting up custom boxing, to connecting the device with a peripheral accessory, such as a heart rate monitor.
Challenges mostly depend on the complexity of the kitting requirements. Some common aspects related to kitting are:
- SIM Cards: If you need cellular connectivity, you’ll had to deal with both inserting and activating SIM cards. Inserting SIM cards is tedious but not overly complicated. However, figuring out how and when to activate them so you don’t incur unnecessary charges can be very difficult.
- Packaging: Depending on how white-label you want your product to feel, you may consider getting custom boxes branded. This is not overly complex, but can add some overhead such as managing inventory.
- Informational Inserts: Your use case or industry may require including informational inserts or instructions in the boxes. Again, this is more tedious than anything, but does require human capital and has a quality assurance aspect to ensure the resources are up-to-date.
Consumer considerations: In choosing this option, you’ll be buying devices off the shelf, which means they’ve already been packaged and kitted by the manufacturer for a consumer buyer. If you have custom requirements, such as informational inserts, you’ll need to manage that entire process. You’ll also need to buy a data plan from a separate vendor and deal with activating SIM cards. There are many moving parts.
DIY considerations: The most significant advantage here is that you can often get the manufacturer to take care of the kitting requirements. The manufacturer is producing the device to your specifications. This means you can define custom boxes, SIM cards, asset tags, labels, etc. If you aren’t using cellular connectivity, there are no real downsides to this method. If you are, activating the SIM cards at the right time for the right devices can be challenging and add significant complexities to your workflows.
Mobile infrastructure considerations: Similar to manufacturers in the DIY method, your mobile infrastructure provider can handle all the kitting requirements for you so your devices are turnkey and ready to go. The big advantage here is that if you get data through your mobile infrastructure vendor, you will be able to activate specific SIMs on-demand with no overhead. It’s also all handled through one point of contact, minimizing the number of third parties you need to rely on. Overall, this will likely be more expensive than the DIY route but less costly (and faster) than the consumer route.
4. Logistics and Reverse Logistics
Logistics is the process of shipping single-use devices to end users, and reverse logistics is the process of receiving devices from end-users to be reused or recycled. The strength of most companies lies in their product and software engineering teams — the people responsible for building the product. But shipping goods is much different than shipping software; there are a lot more factors to consider.
There are a handful of challenges in shipping and receiving devices that you’ll need to take into consideration:
- Safety regulations: Today, it’s harder to ship a device with a battery than it is to ship a bomb. Shipping companies have outlined the required safety regulations that you’ll need to adhere to when shipping devices with lithium-ion batteries. You need the proper markings, labels, and documentation. If it’s mismanaged, you risk devices not being delivered or even being destroyed.
- Data security: There may be sensitive data stored on a returned device depending on its use case. For instance, in healthcare, a device may include private patient information. Many industries will require you to have the proper processes in place to wipe the device.
- Importing and exporting: If you have global operations, importing and exporting can pose a significant challenge, as each country has different documentation requirements, certifications, etc. While this isn’t a massive problem if you’re shipping to only a handful of countries, it can become increasingly difficult as you scale.
In this case, the challenges remain the same regardless of whether you go the consumer, DIY, or mobile infrastructure route. Similar to warehousing, the most significant consideration is who’s in charge of managing logistics. With consumer and DIY routes, you’ll have to handle it yourself or hire a third party, which creates added costs and hassle. On the other hand, a mobile infrastructure vendor specializes in logistics and should have the resources to handle all of the requirements.
5. International Support
Shipping and supporting devices internationally add significant complexity to your infrastructure operations. If you don’t know what you’re doing, international support can cause a lot of headaches and add massive costs.
Some of the considerations you will have to keep in mind are:
- Certification: Depending on how your device is being used, you may need to get specific certifications to approve things like batteries or cellular bands. For example, in the United States, the FCC requires manufacturers to ensure their equipment will not interfere electromagnetically with other products.
- Cellular connectivity: You will need to make sure your device has the proper cellular bands to operate efficiently in the target country. You might have a device that works great in the U.S. but doesn’t get as much coverage in Brazil.
- Cellular vendors: Different countries have different cellular carriers. You will need to make sure you have the right SIM cards and the proper contracts with carriers. If you don’t handle this correctly, you could get hammered with roaming fees.
Consumer considerations: The biggest advantage here is that most major OEMs operate globally and, therefore, certify their devices to work in any country you need. However, if the device you’re using is at the end of its life cycle, the manufacturer might not renew the certifications, making it impossible to ship into certain countries once those certifications expire. Manufacturers also often have different stock-keeping units in different regions, which would add complexity in how you manage and forecast inventory on a regional basis.
DIY considerations: If you plan to support large international mobile device deployment with devices you’ve built yourself, you’ll need to manage and maintain all the certifications. These are constantly changing and might require a team to ensure everything is correct and up to date.
Mobile infrastructure considerations: International support is where mobile infrastructure shines. Your mobile infrastructure provider should have certifications to support almost any country — and if not, they can often be added on. The certifications will be maintained for the life of your device. Also, because the devices are designed with global enterprises in mind, the models will have global connectivity, which means you can use a single stock-keeping unit to support global infrastructure operations. Finally, the mobile infrastructure provider can provide SIM cards and data plans that can also work globally.
Focusing on What You Do Best
Most companies want to focus on building and continuously improving great products. Dealing with the underlying operational infrastructure that is required to manage and deploy those devices is a distraction. When evaluating your options for building your dedicated device, it’s essential to consider not just what goes into creating that product, but also what will go into deploying and managing it.
To learn more about how Mason can help you build, scale, and manage a fleet of dedicated devices, set up a quick call with a Solutions Specialist.