Tablets

Make a business case for the Tablet PC

A Tablet PC deployment could be the best thing that's happened to your company recently--or it could be an expensive mistake. If you're deciding whether the Tablet PC would be a boon for your organization, then you need to consider these factors.

From a business perspective, the Tablet PC that runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is expected to transform the way IT pros work by providing a completely new method for inputting information. This proclamation from our technology sector sounds like a pretty big boast, especially from an industry that was built by working solely with a keyboard and mouse.

While the idea of pen-based computing is not entirely new, making it work in a business environment is. There are bound to be opportunities that will develop because of the Tablet PC, but the real issue is deciding whether it is time to invest in this technology now or whether it is better to wait for the next version. So, if you are on the cusp of making a hardware upgrade soon, it helps to understand your needs before investing in this new technology. Making a business case for the Tablet PC really depends on a few factors, which I’ll go over in this article.

Disclaimer
I currently use a Tablet PC at work. Mine is a terrific ViewSonic V1100 that I started using as a demo model before eventually using it as one of my day-to-day computers for tasks here at the office.

The ultimate note taker
Do your users attend a lot of meetings? If so, the feature that strikes most people as revolutionary about the Tablet PC is the note-taking capabilities of Microsoft Journal. It’s the most natural note-taking technology to date. Working with Microsoft Journal eliminates the need for pen and paper at meetings. A user can begin using this application with minimal computer experience. Also, having a centralized note-taking device will eliminate the double entry that usually takes place after a meeting once a user has returned to the office.

Laptop replacement
If your sales force carries laptops, the Tablet PC is a natural fit for these users. Essentially, the Tablet PC with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is a super laptop with a fully functioning Windows XP operating system. When choosing between a laptop and the Tablet PC, the Tablet PC is preferable because, in terms of features, it is identical to its laptop cousins and includes additional features, such as the aforementioned Microsoft Journal.

Better workflow
The Tablet PC changes workflow problems encountered with traditional desktop and laptop systems because it allows source documents to reside within the unit. When source documents are paper based, the next logical step in the entry process is reentry, which is not a productive use of time. Now users can pull up predeveloped forms on a Tablet PC that include drop-down lists and dialog boxes to ease data entry. For instance, an insurance claims adjuster can examine a vehicle involved in an accident and fill out a claim form on the Tablet PC. The adjuster can make notations about the accident in predefined areas of the form and fill in the information required to complete the form. From there the form can be wirelessly transmitted to its next destination.

Small transition issues
Your users should already be familiar with PC operating systems. The Tablet PC with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition does not require a great deal of transition time since it’s based on an already established platform. Also, if a user prefers typing and using a mouse for input, then the units are equipped to handle those methods as well. However, most users will take to the natural feel of digital ink since it’s identical to writing on a piece of paper.

What will take time is getting users to realize the opportunities to use the Tablet PC as a collaborative device. Taking notes and jotting down ideas is one thing; sharing them wirelessly within a group may go overlooked. There are many features embedded within the Tablet PC that make sharing possible, but users might take a while to adjust to this new way of communicating.

Niche use
Tablet PCs have been referred to as niche industry devices. One of the first industries to beta test Tablet PCs was the healthcare industry. Small pockets of healthcare professionals, from doctors to administrative staff, became Tablet PC-enabled to determine whether these devices would enhance their work lives. The benefits proved dramatic as they enabled a paper-intensive industry to streamline its workflow digitally.

As an IT manager, you will ultimately have to decide whether the industry your company competes in is positioned to take advantage of this new way of working. If the bottlenecks in your workflow are paper intensive, then the Tablet PC could help to eliminate them.

Instant-on capability
The instant-on feature found in today’s handheld PDAs is a feature sorely lacking in Tablet PCs. Stopping to wait for a boot process when all you want to do is jot a few notes down is not a good use of your time. However, if you are looking to replace laptops in your organization, then this inconvenience is minimized by the fact that laptops are not instant-on-enabled either.

Development is playing catch up
While much can be said for the Tablet PC’s unique way of inputting information, there is still a dearth of business applications that harness the true power of digital ink technology for the devices. Currently, the development community is struggling with the new coding idiosyncrasies that make the Tablet PC work, so if users are in a hurry to see all their forms on one machine, they may be disappointed. However, I’m confident this void will be filled, as many software companies have devoted their resources to Tablet PC application development.

Cost factor
The last issue is the cost factor. Like all new technologies, Tablet PCs are priced in the high range when compared to a traditional laptop. Depending on the model and type (slate vs. convertible), the average price range for a new Tablet PC starts at around $1,800. They are equipped with all the features of modern laptop, but at that price point you can typically purchase two high-end laptops for the price of one Tablet PC. Over time you can expect these prices to fall, but if you do wait, you will miss out on the many features that are already built into the Tablet PC that could provide immediate benefits to your users.
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