Mobile technology investment is a top priority for 36% of organisations and a growing priority for an additional 58% to keep up with rapidly evolving and increasing customer demand.

These are among the findings from a Zebra Technologies study on the future of field operations, which indicates that investments will be made in disruptive technologies and enterprise mobile devices to enhance front-line worker productivity and customer satisfaction in field operations including fleet management, field services, proof of delivery and direct store delivery workflows.

“Driven by the acceleration of e-commerce along with customer’s heightened expectations and more focus within companies on differentiating service levels, the field operations industry is rapidly adapting the way it looks at its mobile technology investments,” says Jim Hilton, director of vertical marketing strategy: manufacturing, transportation and logistics at Zebra Technologies.

“Our study shows how growing challenges related to the on-demand economy drive organizations to adopt transformative, disruptive technologies such as augmented reality and intelligent labels to provide visibility and integrate business intelligence for a performance edge.”

The survey reveals that equipping front-line workers with enterprise mobile devices remains a priority to stay competitive.

Today, just one-fifth of organisations have a majority of their field-based operations using enterprise mobile devices. This is estimated to reach 50% in five years.

Respondents indicate that most organisations intend to invest in handheld mobile computers, mobile printers and rugged tablets. From 2018 to 2023, handheld mobile computer usage with built-in barcode scanners is forecasted to grow by 45%, mobile printers by 53% and rugged tablets by 54%. The higher levels of inventory, shipment and asset accuracy provided by using these devices is expected to increase business revenues.

A key driver of productivity, efficiency and cost-savings in field operations is ensuring ruggedised enterprise devices replace traditional consumer ones. Nearly 80% of respondents usually or always conduct a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis of business devices prior to making a capital expenditure. Only 32% of respondents believe that consumer smartphones have better TCO than rugged devices.

Meanwhile, tertiary concerns and post-sale factors are important for organisations when evaluating front-line worker enterprise mobile devices.

The survey reveals these TCO considerations when investing in new front-line enterprise technology: replacement (47%), initial device (44%), application development (44%) and programming/IT (40%).

Almost 40% of respondents say device management and support costs are important as well as customer service (37%), device lifecycle cadence (36%) and repair costs (35%). Such factors increasingly influence the purchase cycle, showing that those who do not provide clear value or cannot control these costs will quickly be overtaken by those who do.

The survey shows that emerging technologies and faster networks are disrupting field operations, with seven in 10 organisations agreeing that faster mobile networks will be a key driver for field operations investment to enable the use of disruptive technology.

Significant industry game-changers will be droids and drones, with over a third of decision makers citing them as the biggest disruptors.

The use of smart technologies such as sensors, RFID, and intelligent labels also play a role in transforming the industry. More than a quarter of respondents continue to view augmented/virtual reality (29%), sensors (28%), RFID and intelligent labels (28%) as well as truck loading automation (28%) as disruptive factors.

Key regional findings include:

* Asia Pacific: 44% of respondents consider truck loading automation will be among one of the most disruptive technologies, compared respectively to 28% globally.

* Europe, Middle East and Africa: 70% of respondents agree e-commerce is driving the need for faster field operations.

* Latin America: 83% agree that faster wireless networks (4G/5G) are driving greater investment in new field operations technologies, compared with 70% of the global sample.

* North America: 36% of respondents plan to implement rugged tablets in the next year.