Device Management

Challenges of Scaling Hardware and How to Overcome Them

Wearables, scanners, kiosks, and POS systems are just a few examples of hardware that has become a part of companies’ growing fleets of devices for use by customers, employees, contractors, and suppliers. As operations expand geographically and a company acquires more customers, hardware fleets can grow rapidly not only in size but also in complexity. Organizations are constantly needing to source, customize, connect, test, maintain, and replace these devices — creating challenges for IT and the business.

Let’s have a look at 6 of the most common issues experienced when scaling a hardware fleet within an organization.

1. Sourcing Hardware for Scaling

Purchasing a few dozen units from a large, well-known OEM might seem like a reasonable first step when needing to source hardware quickly. However, simply purchasing devices that were designed and tested for broad consumer use has its issues, including lower quality, inability to stay connected, design flaws, and incompatibility with custom-built applications.

Further, what will happen when you find yourself needing hundreds or even thousands of devices? The OEM’s products might not meet the needs of your employees or customers, and any quality or design issues will be ever-present over a large volume of devices, leading to a challenging user experience that could potentially strain customer care operations. Obtaining the same device may also become problematic, leading to issues with scaling operations.

How to overcome this:  Rather than purchase off-the-shelf devices, no matter how low the cost, hardware should be developed and customized to meet the business’ needs taking such factors as user experience in mind. Work with a partner that offers hardware design and that has experience developing for fleets at scale. 

2. Lack of Knowledge in Your Workforce

New services require new products or ways of delivering them, and oftentimes, an internal IT or product management team is unable to develop hardware internally. Organizations might conduct research or collect feedback from their customers as to what they would like to see, such as buttons on a piece of hardware or the size of a screen. However, employees might not be the most knowledgeable about how to source, develop, deploy, secure, and manage such devices. Additionally, devices might need to be localized to meet local regulations or appeal to customers in a local market. For example, security protocols and requirements can vary, requiring a company to keep up and make adjustments as needed. Such management can be a headache that escalates in complexity. 

How to overcome this: Rather than lean on employees to understand the ever-shifting landscape of hardware design as it relates to customer needs, consider outsourcing your device development. A partner with experience developing custom-built devices in a range of environments and for multiple use cases removes the burden on your employees.  

3. Challenges in Inventory Management

Your IT department is probably already buckling under the strain of having to manage the devices used by employees working remotely or customers, from various locations without a local IT resource to troubleshoot issues as they arise. With some devices being used to carry out their daily tasks — laptops, smartphones, printers, and the like — the device fleet becomes vulnerable to malware. Operating systems and apps need to be updated, but carelessness and human error also come into play.

An IT or operations team tasked with managing customer-facing devices, such as kiosks, POS systems, or scanners, would be further challenged to manage a now larger fleet of disparate devices for varied uses.

How to overcome this: Build security features into your hardware fleet from the onset, in order to reduce the burden on your IT and operations teams. Work with a partner that provides security patches and support for both the hardware and OS.

4. Maintaining the Devices

Battery life aside, device fleets cannot go down, especially during peak business times (i.e., a restaurant kiosk taking lunch or dinner orders).  However, organizations are challenged in the maintenance of devices, especially as the fleet scales. Specialized hardware will need specialized apps that almost perform “self-maintenance,” consuming minimal device resources and re-setting when needed. 

How to overcome this:  Develop hardware with a custom OS and custom apps in mind, optimized for high performance and interactivity. To minimize strain on IT and operations, leverage a hardware development partner’s SDKs to dynamically control the hardware and UX in real-time. 

5. Concern over Hardware Obsolescence

Great! Your device fleet has been rolled out, customers are using them, data is flowing, and everything seems to be working. Except, you keep getting alerts from Apple or Samsung of new device models with even more technology and features built-in. What to do? You cannot immediately swap out all devices with the new ones, even if the cost wasn’t an issue. 

How to overcome this:  Work with a partner that can help you future-proof your device fleet. Aside from devices that work for your organization’s specific customer and employee needs, consider utilizing a custom OS as well. In this way, you can guard against constant changes to Android or OEMs rolling out new device models with features you don’t need and shouldn’t have to pay for. 

6. Calculating ROI

Perhaps the biggest factor in scaling hardware operations is the cost involved. Aside from the per-unit price, you must also consider the operating costs involved with deployment. Software licenses, connectivity, database reconfiguration, and maintenance are just a few of the factors that add to the cost of putting a new device into operation. 

How to overcome this:  Work with a partner that can help you select hardware with an eye for scalability and provide you with the insights related to all of the associated costs. Infrastructure needs to be in place as the fleet grows in size, to ensure maximum uptime, and a hardware partner can work with you to understand any of the short-term and long-term costs associated with scaling. 

Overcoming the Challenges of Scaling Hardware

As organizations seek to deliver unique experiences to customers wherever they might be, simply buying off-the-shelf hardware from an OEM can lead to frustration for both a company and its customers. 

Consider working with a hardware partner like Mason that can deliver limitless control of the entire product and lifecycle, from software, hardware, and end-of-life, to build the whole smart product. The Mason Smart Device Platform gives you granular access to add, remove, or lockdown capabilities making it possible for highly customized products to be built as envisioned.