Wednesday, 27 November 2019

An Android cautionary tale for Industrial mobile devices.

At Barcode-IT we have embraced and love Android powered industrial and warehouse mobile computers. We have learned how best to use them and how to configure them for best customer performance.

However recently we have come across an issue that we did not anticipate and which caused our customer serious problems.

We work with this customer to choose and configure some Zebra Mobile computers, which were running an SAP S/4 Hana mobile client.  The customer was very happy and everything worked well. 

Unfortunately as is the case sometimes, for the 2nd round of supply, the customer purchasing dept. opted to buy additional devices from another supplier, who specialists in internet sales and does not offer any advice or end user assistance, (you know who I mean!).  But hey what could go wrong? They had the exact model part number that we had supplied previously and so chose the cheaper supplier.  They had our config for the mobile devices and loaded the SAP client, but immediately ran into problems, the SAP client did not work as expected, the screen did not look the same and some barcodes had missing characters at the end, or did not automatically move to the next field.

The customer complained to the SAP supplier, who quite rightly said that the same client was running on all the devices.  Eventually after trying and failing to get assistance from the internet supplier, with tail firmly between legs, they turned back to Barcode-IT to ask why our devices worked but the same device from the other supplier did not.

After agreeing a fee to examine this problem (which was probably more that the saving made buying from the big internet supplier ) our technicians found the problem.  The Android version was a higher revision on the new devices!  Same part number, identical config, but some subtle difference in the underlying OS was changing the way that the SAP client interacted with the mobile device.

It was not the SAP software suppliers fault, his SAP client could be made to work on either device, but with slightly different configs, for how the screen was displayed and how the barcode scanner sent data to the software. We gave the customer two options, run the devices with two different configs ( a potential nightmare for the future ) or downgrade the new device to the original version of Android, which is fortunately possible, thanks to Zebra's Enterprise grade products.

Remember, Android is a mobile phone operating system underneath and is updated much more often than an Enterprise industrial mobile device.

Two big points to take from this tale.
  1. Use a supplier who understands your system and is certified by the manufacturer to manage and configure your industrial mobile devices. Not a box shifted!
  2. Just because its a later version of Android does not mean its better for your business.  There may be no advantage at all. Sometimes it's "better the devil you know!"
At Barcode-IT we stage all the devices before delivery, ensure the Android is the same version as that tested in the field and config the devices to be ready to work immediately.  Something that all good suppliers should do.

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