Digital transformation accelerated in a big way over the past few years. Still, there is a gap in the data on how enterprises have enabled this transformation with their dedicated device strategies. So we at Esper commissioned 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, to uncover insights from developers and IT leaders who manage dedicated devices at companies from 500 to well over 10,000 employees. We asked them about growth in fleet sizes, how vital these fleets are to overall strategy, nitty gritty details like form factor and OS choices, pros and cons of current device management solutions, and if they’ve undergone a DevOps transformation internally. 

What’s in the report?

The data is clear: Dedicated devices and frequent software updates are no longer optional. They’re critical to digital transformation and a differentiated customer experience. This new report, “Enterprise-Class Dedicated Device Fleets Set to Explode, but Operational Challenges Loom,” is a first of its kind study highlighting the strategic value of dedicated devices, gaps in existing device management solutions, and the growing adoption of DevOps.

If you don’t have time to read the full report, we’ve taken the time to summarize the findings. Here are just a few of the things you’ll learn:

  • Just what is a “dedicated device”?
  • How dedicated device fleets enable enterprise digital transformation strategy 
  • Why commercial off-the-shelf device management (MDM) solutions aren’t up to the dedicated device challenge 
  • Which operating systems enterprises are using currently and why
  • How enterprises are embracing an Agile/DevOps centric approach to application lifecycle management

Report Methodology

451 Research fielded the survey in the US in Q1 of 2022. The survey targeted device fleet stakeholders in companies with more than 500 employees that operate in the retail, healthcare, quick service, and full-service restaurant industries (60%). Other sectors like government, education, and hospitality were also included (40%). Survey participants had to be involved in the customization, implementation, and embedding of software or operating systems for their company’s dedicated device fleets (e.g., tablets, point of sale, medical devices, kiosks, digital signage, IoT devices). Those devices could be for internal use, or part of a customer-facing service.

What is enterprise digital transformation? 

Digital transformation is the transition into a digital-first organization. It’s when technology becomes an integral part of business functions from start to finish — not just an afterthought. Digital transformation helps companies plan, implement, and manage business processes on a fundamental level. It provides advanced experiences and services that employees and customers have come to expect and the move many organizations need to make to springboard into the future. 

What’s an example of digital transformation? 

Digital transformation looks different for every organization — a hospital’s transformation strategy is dramatically different from a restaurant’s. As such, it’s hard to give specific examples; for a restaurant, digital transformation may include adding self-service kiosks or mobile ordering, while a retail store may move to a cloud-based POS system with cross-device synchronization and add digital signage that can be managed from halfway across the world. 

Regardless of the industry, however, the goal of digital transformation is to make standard business operations more efficient, fluid, and accessible. With the right digital transformation strategy, operations almost run on autopilot so you can focus on your business and innovation.

What do we mean when we say “dedicated devices”?

Dedicated devices can be tablets, single purpose IoT devices like self-service kiosks, wearable medical sensors, and point-of-sale terminals (ARM or x86). They’re used to deliver value on the front lines of digital transformation and are critical to achieving business outcomes. COVID supercharged their adoption, as digital experiences are now a principal source of customer facing value. Dedicated devices are not standard employee productivity devices, corporate liable, and BYOD smartphones. 

Dedicated device fleets are increasingly critical to overall business strategy and customer experiences 

Dedicated devices play an integral role in supporting company strategy today, and a growing one: Fleet sizes and budget for fleet software are forecasted to expand significantly in the next three years. 

  • Digital transformation continues to be top of mind for businesses. 50% of respondents are actively executing a formal strategy. The remaining 50% are planning and researching (or at a minimum considering) digital transformation strategies.
  • Software development budgets are increasing. 58% of organizations report a moderate increase (10-49%), and nearly 10% report a significant increase (over 50%) in their software development budget. 
  • Device fleet sizes will grow substantially. 49% of respondents report managing fleets of over 1,000 devices right now, while 69% expect to reach that level in the next three years. Noteworthy is the sizable increase in the number of organizations expected to be managing fleets over 10,000 devices, from 6% today to 18% in three years.  
  • Organizations are widening the variety of device form factors in their fleets. Today, the most common dedicated device types deployed are mobile tablets (79%), handset form factor (e.g. smartphone) (65%), and digital signage (56%). The most cited device types to be added to the roadmap over the next three years are ultra-small form factors (e.g. USB stick) (24%), AR/VR applications (23%), and digital signage (22%). 

Current mobile device management (MDM) solutions are not enough

Traditional MDM was designed for employee general purpose devices like BYOD smartphones, and it’s no wonder that it’s falling short for managing dedicated device fleets. The challenges MDMs create can very loosely be bucketed into two categories: either the tool is too complicated or doesn’t do what I need it to do. 

  • Nearly ¾ of respondents cited said their MDM solution is a problem. . The top challenges included their solution being too complicated or unfriendly, lacking support for the hardware they deploy (e.g. x86) and/or having a poor user interface.
  • 75% of respondents reported that a lack of commercially available solutions has forced their teams to create custom management tools to meet unique requirements of their dedicated device fleets. 
    • The top reasons stated for needing to build their own solution include:
      • Supporting older versions of an OS (53%)
      • Developing specific features that are not commercially available (52%)
      • Managing the scale and diversity of their fleet (48%)

We see complexity all over the place in these fleets. UI, number and types of devices managed, the many OS and app versions being run — the permutations are endless. And many of those complexities lead straight to the “it doesn’t do what I need it to do” bucket. “I can’t group like devices together,” “I can’t support older OSs,” “I can’t see which versions of which apps are being run.” It’s understandably a headache.

“Traditional MDMs are only built for employee device use, but we also needed a solution for the devices we’re sending to our customers — for the devices they depend on to operate their businesses every single day. Esper’s Android expertise is a game-changer. Because that expertise is at their core, they can truly provide us with a technology partnership.”

Bruce Crenshaw, Director of Hardware at Ordermark

Esper helps to eliminate complexity through a modern and elegant UI, with automations for just about everything, while also delivering greater granularity and observability to each individual device. Creating this dedicated device experience was uniquely possible with Android because we have the flexibility to find or develop solutions to manage your devices exactly how you need to.

Esper chose Android for many reasons. For one, it’s open source: Google publishes all of the source code for the Android platform as part of the Android Open Source Project. Android is also the most popular choice among developers and encompasses a truly massive developer ecosystem.  

  • Android is the dominant operating system for dedicated device fleets. Android (including AOSP and Android with Google Apps, or GMS) accounted for 41% of the device estates of those surveyed, alongside Microsoft Windows (26%), Apple iOS (24%), and Linux (8%).
  • Organizations with a considerable portion of their device fleets (>30%) running on Android report the primary reasons they use Android are its lower total cost of ownership, strong platform and app developer tools, and its robust security features.

There is also a high level of interest in running Android on devices with x86 (Intel, AMD) processors.

  • 88% of respondents indicated an interest in a solution for Android on x86 devices. 
    • Among the greatest perceived challenges of using Android for dedicated device fleets, 23% cited no official support for x86 devices.
    • Among respondents who built custom management tools to meet their unique fleet requirements, 29% cited the need to support x86 devices as a contributing factor.

The good news: There is a solution for Android on x86. Whether you’re looking to extend the life of devices with an OS that is no longer supported (e.g., Windows CE) or run a customized and enhanced Android OS from the start, Esper Foundation for Android on x86 is built for both scenarios. You can skip the costly rip and replace, and skip the problem of managing multiple solutions as you increase the diversity of device types in your fleet. For more about why and how Android on x86 works, this article provides a detailed overview.

Esper Foundation for Android works. No one else does Android x86 successfully today. Esper’s engineering staff made it easy to put Android on any x86 device. I was expecting it to take a lot of time to make Foundation work the way we wanted it to. Out of the box, Foundation worked extremely well, requiring only some minor fine-tuning. Pushing out Foundation OTA (over-the-air) made it so easy to deploy and update.

Jason Joiner, Field Application Engineer at JLT

A DevOps approach to app development is a business imperative 

Customer expectations for superior digital experiences are at an all time high. And as DevOps/Agile is increasingly the norm among cloud developers, it is no surprise that applying this approach to application lifecycle management on dedicated device fleets is gaining momentum.

  • Among our respondents, DevOps/CI/CD has been widely embraced for enterprise application development (77%). And there is a significant appetite to adopt the Devops/CI/CD approach for developing and managing dedicated device fleet applications (75%).
  • Why DevOps for devices? Among respondents who indicated they seek to apply a DevOps/CI/CD approach for the development of device applications, the expected outcomes they hoped to achieve include:
    • Speeding up time to market (57%)
    • Improving the quality of user experience (55%)
    • Lowering overall costs (51%)
    • Organizational agility and flexibility (45%)
  • The number of dedicated device apps released in a DevOps manner will nearly double — from 35% to 64% — over the next three years.
  • Organizations want to deploy apps to production more frequently. Among respondents that deploy apps in a DevOps manner today, 27% release daily, with 40% reporting that daily would be ideal. 80% of respondents would ideally deploy apps to production on a weekly or more frequent basis (daily, hourly). 

There is a better solution for your dedicated device fleet — Esper 

Our customers and partners are on the leading edge of digital transformation because they understand the solutions that accelerate innovation. Existing MDM solutions in the market can’t provide the level of observability, automation, and reliability that businesses need today to achieve true agility and set themselves apart from the competition. 

Crucially, we understand that there is no one size fits all solution to managing dedicated device fleets. There are shared basic needs, but each business offering is different — and that needs to be reflected in how they interact with their devices.

Esper provides the platform, tools, experience, and expertise that you need to develop a solution that will meet your needs and help create space to take your business to the next level. That space is where innovation happens, because our platform allows you to focus on delivering fantastic customer experiences. Esper can give the control and agility of DevOps and apply it to software development for your fleet devices. 

For the full report, check out: Enterprise-Class Dedicated Device Fleets Set to Explode, but Operational Challenges Loom.