Other Voices: Counting the costs of warehousing IT failure

How minor computer issues can have knock-on effects that cause severe operational disruption upstream and down.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by Eric Miller, CEO, JLT Mobile Computers, Inc., is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


With advanced track, trace and stock control IT solutions underpinning the operations of most contemporary warehousing applications, computer breakdowns and the resulting downtime can have a profound negative impact on cost and efficiency. Even minor computer issues that may only take minutes to remedy can have knock-on effects that cause severe operational disruption further up- or downstream—some that may take hours or days to put right. For these reasons, IT investment choices must be based not only on functionality, but also on robustness and suitability for purpose.

The biggest cost of IT failure is almost always the cost of the resulting disruption, not only while the computers are out of action, but also the time taken to bring the whole operation back up to speed. Even one minute of downtime can cause operational disruptions that may take a whole day to remediate. With so many steps in the logistics value chain – including picking, replenishment, receiving, packaging, labeling and shipping – even a single-node IT failure can have profound implications, not just on delivery schedules and personnel movement, but also on customer satisfaction and the associated goodwill attached to just-in-time delivery.

IT redundancy is an obvious solution, but even this can still take a few minutes to instigate handovers and, in many cases, it is simply not commercially viable to have back-up hardware for every computer in the chain. The best solution therefore is to make sure that any IT solutions deployed are as robust, rugged and reliable as possible.

IT specifiers must also take into account user/operator interactions and ease of use. Unserviceable or functionally unfit computers can hinder operators, preventing them from doing their jobs efficiently, which, in turn, will reduce motivation and productivity. These lower productivity levels will then have a measurable effect on operators’ work output, resulting in more time being required to complete the same tasks. Poorly functioning computers can even prompt aggression and violence towards the units, leading to further damage, added operational disruption and additional repair costs.

If a computer stops functioning correctly it must be repaired, resulting in costs for shipping and the cost of the repair or replacement itself. Since fewer breakdowns mean there will be fewer repairs, maintenance costs can be easily reduced by choosing computers that have reliability designed in, for instance with features such as ruggedized projected capacitive touch (PCT) screens. Compared to standard touch screens, which usually need to be replaced every few years, rugged PCT screens are virtually unbreakable and don’t wear out even with heavy use.

IT equipment breakages and downtime will result in more costs than just the simple repair cost – it’s a fact of life. As a result, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of less robust products, with lower initial purchase prices, is almost always far greater than the TCO for more reliable and high-quality alternatives. It is therefore vital to fully consider the long term return of the investment when evaluating or specifying any type of IT equipment for demanding applications – especially those sensitive to even minor disruptions.

About the author:
Eric Miller serves as CEO at JLT Mobile Computers, Inc., a leading developer of rugged mobile computers for demanding environments with offices in Sweden and the US. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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