Friday, February 3, 2012

How To Buy The Right Mobile Computer For Your Department

Finally acquiring funding approval and/or grant approval is a major step in purchasing mobile data terminals, such as Panasonic Toughbooks.  For many departments, it's probably the part of the purchasing process that takes the longest amount of time.  Once you get the okay to start browsing vendors and acquiring quotations, how do you determine what to buy?  To point you in the right direction, here are a few tips:

  1. Learn the specifications of your software.  Whether you are buying new software or continuing to use the same programs, you need to know what type of hardware requirements it has.  Pay particular attention to processor speeds, minimum memory/RAM, and required hard drive space.  There is nothing worse then buying computers only to find out that they can't do what you needed them to.
  2. Don't forget about peripherals and software that you want to get later.  Are you thinking about adding an automated license plate recognition system in a year or two?  Get some general specification information from various vendors, and then make sure that what you are purchasing will be able to handle the add on.
  3. Determine exactly what you plan to use them for.  Are you looking to mount them in a vehicle?  Do you plan to use them to capture signatures?  Will you be doing a lot of typing?  Are you going to integrate your lights and sirens into the computer system?  Knowing the answers to questions such as these can sway you in the direction of just what Toughbook you should purchase.  For example:
    --If you are looking to mount the Toughbooks in a vehicle, you are going to want to stick with a fully-rugged model, such as a CF-30, as it will outperform a semi-rugged model.
    --If you plan to capture signatures on it, you might want to lean towards a tablet unit, such as the CF-19, as it will lay flay making signing easier.
    --If you plan to do a lot of typing, you might want to stay away from a tablet unit since they do not have a standard sized keyboard.
    --If you plan to integrate lights, you definitely want to go with a touchscreen unit, as it is easier and safer for officers to operate those systems on the go.
  4. Think about how long you need it to last.  Are you in the process of upgrading from a system that was installed back in 1992?  Is it likely that the units you are purchasing are going to need to last you another ten years?  You might want to look into purchasing a newer model of computer.  A newer (not necessarily new) model will have lower usage hours and will be compatible with newer hardware and software for a longer period of time.
  5. Get your money's worth.  In a previous blog article we talked about overall cost of ownership.  Be sure to take into account the failure rate and time that the unit you are purchasing will be out of service.  In that blog, it is explained that Toughbooks are actually more cost efficient that other brands of laptops for emergency services usage (including the supposedly "rugged" versions of Dell) as they are a higher quality unit with a significantly lower failure rate.
  6. Maximize your funding.  Many departments overlook refurbished Toughbooks, as they look at them at being used and therefore of a lesser quality.  When in actuality, refurbished Toughbooks are often in like-new condition.  Throw in a great warranty, and it's like buying a new unit without the hefty price tag.  Prices of refurbished units are generally 50-75% less than the cost of new units.  If your funding is sparse or you need a lot of units, you should look into purchasing a refurbished unit.  Why purchase one new Toughbook for $3,500+ when you can get three or more for the same price?

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