Mobile operating systems used within Australian distribution centres have evolved over recent years, and these changes are presenting both challenges and new opportunities for logistics operators.
Ten years ago, operating systems for mobile devices were provided by Microsoft. Windows CE and Windows Mobile (later Windows Embedded Handheld) offered features and capabilities needed for deployment in rugged supply chain environments. At that time, Apple had only recently shown the first iPhone and Google acquired Android, but had yet to see a new device come to market. Outside of these players, other options available were largely focused around the white collar professional user and proved largely unsuitable for the unique needs of Australian DC.
Today, things have changed, with Microsoft retreating from the enterprise mobility environment. DC and associated logistics organisations currently running applications that require a legacy Microsoft mobile operating system (Windows CE 6 or Windows Mobile/Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5) will soon face the end of support for their platform. Mainstream support, which includes regular updates, has ended for both legacy systems. Microsoft extended support (security fixes) will end for Windows CE 6 in 2018 and for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 in early 2020.
After those dates, Australian DC and logistics organisations will be unable to obtain fixes should a vulnerability or error be found in Microsoft code. As a result, many materials handling organisations in Australia are transitioning to new applications running under alternate operating systems, while others are left wondering where to turn.
Preparing for tomorrow, today
As end of support dates for legacy Microsoft operating systems approach, local logistics organisations need to make plans to move forward, as mobile application development can require considerable time and effort. One way to provide more time to make decisions is to select hardware that can support multiple operating systems. In addition to these advanced mobile devices, logistics organisations purchasing Windows Embedded Handheld can convert their devices to Android at a future date. This allows existing legacy applications to continue running until the organisation is ready to move to Android, at which time a simple field-based software conversion is performed. Only a small investment in software is required; no changes are required to the hardware.
iOS has a specific range of use environments
As the market for enterprise devices developed, Apple responded with its own management tools and enterprise enhancements to iOS. However, Apple’s closed system continues to have limitations in terms of controlling updates and managing some device features. Additionally, since hardware devices are limited to consumer phones and tablets, iOS is a viable solution only for use cases that demand a mobile device that is ruggedised via the addition of external caseworks, which renders it unsuitable for a range of DC or logistics operating environments, such as cold storage.
Android has evolved, enhanced its security
Given the negative impacts that data breaches can have on businesses in the digital age, in the past many transport and logistics organisations relied on Windows operating systems due to its strong security model. This model sought to promote system stability and went much further than the security functions available on any other operating system at the time.
Using Android allows logistics companies to access a large ecosystem of applications, development tools and resources, but also previously involved security risks that needed to be addressed and mitigated. Android, though, has steadily evolved its approach to security over recent years.
As its market share has grown, Android has become a target for exploits and malware attacks. Google has responded by increasing the protections to prevent the introduction of Potentially Harmful Apps (PHA), as well as implementing defences inside the OS that limit the ability of the system to be compromised. Today, Android is a much more secure operating system, utilising application isolation and encryption enabled by default to protect personal and corporate data, as well as exploit mitigation techniques to provide a high level of security to the user.
Added security through advanced devices
To help manage the transition to Android and alternatives to Windows, as well as offer an extra layer of device security, advanced enterprise mobile device manufacturers have their own cybersecurity teams in place. These teams monitor multiple information sources to learn of potential DC system security issues as early as possible (typically well before the mainstream media) and have implemented an escalation protocol that mobilises resources company-wide on a priority basis to address these issues. Once an Android vulnerability is revealed and a corrective action posted by Google, security experts implement the fix and deliver it to customers. Direct distribution of patches and updates enables device manufacturers to reduce response time, protecting valuable data.
“Applying advanced technological tools with the right operating system support gives supply chain organisations unparalleled levels of operational control.”
Many enterprise customers will choose to restrict end-users by ‘locking down’ the device through the use of a mobile device management (MDM) agent or an app provided by their device manufacturer. These tools control user access to system resources and can restrict the system to execute only designated apps. Removing the user’s ability to install or run unauthorised apps makes the system far less vulnerable to security exploits caused by user actions. Businesses can establish application white lists or blacklists, control the availability of a wide range of device features, and control which IP addresses are accessible through the firewall. By limiting what the user can do with the device, IT support becomes easier and opportunities for the introduction of malware into the system are substantially reduced.
Preparing for a pain-free transition
Transitioning from legacy Windows platforms to Android involves writing new apps, adapting some workflows, and changing the mobile devices workers use. This can be a significant undertaking for IT departments. To help address these issues, Honeywell has developed the Mobility Edge Platform, which reduces the cost and time to deploy, manage, optimise and secure its Android mobile devices. Platforms such as these are particularly useful for organisations that scale their operations with seasonal workers and need to cover any skills gap through simplified user experiences. While there is no substitute for a well-skilled workforce, applying advanced technological tools with the right operating system support gives Australian supply chain organisations unparalleled levels of operational control.
Raj Sing is vice president of Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions ASEAN & ANZ.