The small to medium business (SMB) is now in an era where their employees can perform a growing number of business functions from their iPads or Android tablets. These growing mobility options can spell productivity and cost savings for time- and resource-strapped organizations.
Here's a cross-platform look at some business functions where SMBs can introduce tablets.
For SMBs who ship and receive goods as part of their business, tablets means package tracking is always accessible. FedEx Mobile (Android/iPad) is perhaps the best-known tablet app for managing shipping. Figure A shows the FedEx Mobile app on an iPad.
Track FedEx packages on your iPad.
While these apps are available on smartphones, a tablet running one of these apps means you can have the app open if you have to call customer service.
Accounting and invoicing
While a financial controller friend may argue with me on this point, tablets can even help SMBs with accounting and invoicing. You may not be crunching complex formulas and pivot tables on your tablet (at least not yet), but there are accounting and invoicing apps appearing that can help you better manage your finances.
A number of financial institutions are releasing mobile banking apps. Check with your financial institution to see what services they offer mobile users. Some enable you to scan your checks into their mobile app for deposit, plus other productivity and cost savings for their mobile customers.
Cloud-based invoicing and tablet apps can improve the workflow around sending and tracking invoices. Invoice2go has done mobile device invoicing better with mobile apps that provide robust features and a consistent user experience across Android tablets and iPads. It's available in three pricing plans. Figure B shows a blank invoice in Invoice2go on an Android tablet.
Manage invoices from your tablet with Invoice2go.
Contract and document signature
Contracts are one more thing that an SMB needs to manage and track as part of their business. Tablets and cloud apps can offer a more secure and streamlined workflow solution, a definite plus for time-strapped organizations that may not be as organized as they should be.
DocuSign (Android/iPad) is one such solution that enables tablet users with DocuSign accounts to sign documents securely. Users can even extend the workflow to send the signed documents to recipients.
Paper-based document reviews are a waste of paper and, for SMBs not working in a traditional office, require the extra steps of having to print the document out, annotate it, and then scan the document into a PDF so your coworkers can review the comments. iAnnotate PDF (Android/iPad) offers tablet users powerful yet flexible annotation tools that mimic paper-based reviews. The app also seamlessly integrates into iPads and Android tablets, making it easy to open file attachments from email or from a cloud storage account.
Adobe Reader (Android/iOS) is a free solution that rivals iAnnotate PDF. With either app, you no longer have to worry about deciphering your co-worker's awful penmanship. Figure C shows a document open in iAnnotate PDF on an iPad.
Using iAnnotate PDF on an iPad.
Social media management
Managing a social media presence for an SMB can slip through the cracks with everything else is going on with running a business. Taking social media management to tablets is now made possible with HootSuite (Android/iPad), because it can offer SMBs a more mobile option for managing their social media presence beyond the web browser on their corporate PCs. Figure D shows the HootSuite Getting Started page on an Android tablet.
Getting Started with HootSuite.
Options to use tablets in project management and collaboration abound for SMBs right now. These apps make it easy for a wide range of team members to interact with project schedules and task information, adding transparency to processes that growing companies need to have.
We've previously covered top project management apps for the iPad, LiquidPlanner, and OmniPlan. Other SMB-friendly options for mobile project management include Wrike (iOS/Android), Teambox (iOS/Android), and Podio (iOS/Android). These are fully accessible to tablet users, meaning they can fully collaborate on tasks and projects with the rest of their company.
Wireless display kiosks
SMBs that have a retail storefront can use tablets as display kiosks to give customers more information about their goods and services. With iPad apps like Yooba - Interactive Kiosk Display, Kiosk Pro, and myKiosk for iOS, you can turn an iPad into an attractive interactive display. Android tablets can also be put to work as a display kiosk with apps like Signagelive and TargetR Digital Signage.
Tablets and apps are only part of the total display kiosk solution. There's a growing market for secure hardware to lock the tablet down as a retail display. Some great examples of these sorts of hardware kits including Armodilo, a manufacturer of secure tablet kiosks, and even Griffin Technology, a well-known accessories vendor that has their own iPad Kiosk. Take a visit to iPadEnclosures to see some examples of how much of the industry has sprung up around kiosks.
Besides display kiosks, tablets are becoming an increasingly popular option for replacing expensive Point of Sale (PoS) solutions. I'll cover tablet options for PoS in an upcoming post.
Solutions like eSignatures and annotating documents provide SMBs another level of protection over business information. Ultimately, moving business tasks to tablets enables SMBs to be more responsive to changes, whether employees are in the office or out with customers.
What other business functions of SMBs benefit from the use of tablets? Share your opinion and experience in the discussion thread below.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.