Professional data collection terminals with Android?

Yes, but with brains!

Operational security and data protection are major challenges for many companies working with mobile devices. Barcotec has been involved with data capture (enterprise mobility) in many sectors - industry, logistics, transport and retail - for over 30 years.

From the perspective of Alexander Rainsberger, Managing Director of Barcotec, the use of robust data collection devices with the Android operating system will increase in the future. This circumstance offers a lot of opportunities and risks, which have to be considered before switching systems from previous Windows CE solutions or proprietary OS platforms. Because in order to offer the best possible solution for the specific use case, system know-how and a lot of configuration and installation effort are required above all.

A modern IT landscape in which a variety of mobile devices are in use - smartphones, tablet PCs, mobile data collection terminals, scanners - requires systems to secure all operational processes and data protection. Wireless communication options such as Bluetooth, WLAN, GSM, WiFi or NFC and the use of systems from the consumer environment increase the security risk enormously.

According to Alexander Rainsberger, Managing Director of BARCOTEC GmbH, there are many reasons why one should work with professional devices in the corporate environment instead of consumer devices, with so-called rugged phones from manufacturers such as Denso or Datalogic. After 30 years as a supplier of radio data transmission systems, Barcotec has a great deal of experience in securing operational communication and ruling out the possibility of incorrect operation and use as far as possible.

Secure from the start

The greatest security risks today emanate from the OS platforms.

Rainsberger comments: "In recent years, we have seen a change in systems from closed WindowsCE platforms to the open Android. And although we would not have thought this development possible due to many aspects in the professional environment, an increasing trend can be noticed. We, too, had to learn to close the newly created gaps professionally and find a secure, reliable solution."

Frequently used interfaces are so overloaded with apps and functions that many sources of error can arise from this, and at the same time only a few users are sufficiently informed about security gaps and - often already installed - security precautions. However, data such as location or usage details of mobile devices are very sensitive in the corporate environment. And targeted hacker attacks often go unnoticed.

The gaps in standard user interfaces

Classic consumer devices with commonly used operating systems such as Android or iOS work with technologies that were conceived for the consumer and therefore offer less operational security and data protection in some areas than professional devices. Apps that you might use willingly on your smartphone force access to personal data in order to function - data that can pose a risk in the corporate environment, however, and should not be left to anyone external. IT corporations around the world collect this data, it's part of their business model. And not every switching off of functions on mobile devices actually leads to the final "OFF", certainly not permanently.

Closed systems within open source

BARCOTEC's rugged devices are individually configured by BARCOTEC specialists, equipped with the necessary software and then updated and serviced. BARCOTEC's Mobile Device Management System (MDM) allows these devices to be protected against unwanted intrusions. BARCOTEC provides "policy enforcement", whereby rules are defined to minimise the risks of IT use.

Before BARCOTEC starts the roll-out of a device family, it defines exactly which functions which devices can be used at which location and at which times (and by which persons). The user thus receives an individual user interface, with all the functions that only this user is allowed to use. And there is a "shutdown" function: if, for example, a device is used in an area or for undefined tasks, the screen is "frozen". The same applies if the user is not registered or if the device is used outside office hours. Signed programmes and geofencing offer many possibilities for process security and data protection.

From roll-out to service

The Barcotec devices already have all the necessary configuration data, for example for the ERP system or warehouse management, before they are delivered to their customers.  

The mobile devices are usually grouped, especially if they are delivered in larger quantities. This means that individual authorisations are granted. Organisational units, sectors and areas can thus be defined in the same way as different places, zones and times of use, such as early and late shifts, and of course purpose. Predefined device groups offer numerous advantages for further roll-outs, product changes, all updates and service, such as a coordinated battery exchange so that not all devices fail at the same time.

Before a new device is used by the customer, it is rolled out in the MDM system and thus automatically supplied with the defined settings and rules.

Data radios from Barcotec are in use for an average of between five and seven years, not infrequently continuously in shift operation. There are feedback loops for the users to detect frequently occurring operating errors, and there are also numerous analysis tools and reports available.

Three factors that count in operation

According to Alexander Rainsberger, three factors are of particular importance when using professional devices or professional applications on mobile devices: productivity, efficiency and operational safety. You don't want to present users with cluttered home screens. Everything that is not relevant for the required operational processes should not be available in the first place. Apps that are not used or notifications that confuse more than they provide relevant information are disruptive elements and reduce productivity.

Furthermore, access to the settings on the devices must be controlled and monitored at all times. Any intervention, whether arbitrary or unintentional, triggers support, costs are incurred as a result and, last but not least, the device is not operational for a certain period of time.

The control principle also applies to hardware: if an application does not need a camera or does not use Bluetooth, then simply do not activate it! In this context, Rainsberger likes to quote a long-standing customer: "What's not on can't cause problems!"

Barcotec has three solutions for all these challenges, the management software "Sure MDM", "Sure Lock" to secure the devices and "Sure Fox", the secure web browser.

Barcotec's full range of services for MDM at a glance:

  • Common definition of basic settings - devices are configured and pre-installed.
  • Registration in MDM - devices are preset according to use and user
  • Setting screens, security systems - selection of the start screen, rules for deactivating peripherals
  • Security - control of device settings
  • Updates - necessary updates over the entire agreed operating time
  • Integrated platforms - compliance with rules and specifications