Today's model for enterprise collaboration isn't just about PCs and Macs anymore. Collaboration needs to extend to tablets, not only because of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), but because tablets are playing an increasing role in many businesses. You need to implement a strategy and appropriate technology choices to help your organization extend enterprise collaboration to tablets -- whether they be BYOD or company-owned -- without a loss of communications or productivity.
Bring the tablet to the enterprise
Making corporate or BYOD tablets collaboration worthy requires some standards, training, and potential adjustments to existing processes. Here are some actions to consider when extending enterprise collaboration to your tablet users:
- Provide collaboration training and documentation for tablet users. Since enterprise collaboration probably predates tablet usage inside your organization, some end user training on how to use the new apps are going to be in order, especially with document collaboration software. This training is best done prior to mobile users hitting the road for the first time with their new tablets.
- Account for tablet users in help desk processes and escalation procedures. If tablets are new to the enterprise, then it's time to provide training to the help desk staff so they can service the new tablets users, including their connectivity and application issues.
- Use a standard Office app on your corporate tablets. While Microsoft Office for the iPad is still at the rumor stage at the time of this writing, choices do abound for Office apps on the tablet, such as iWork (iPad only), CloudOn (Android version on the horizon), Documents To Go (iPad and Android), and Quickoffice Pro (iPad and Android). Each of these apps has their strengths and drawbacks, so set your expectations accordingly. Test your documents, like presentation slides, on tablets before you let the users loose out in the field, especially if customers will be viewing them.
- Adapt processes for tablet users (if needed): Audit your current business processes to see if you need to adjust them for tablet users, particularly those who might be coming into the corporate network remotely.
Bring the enterprise to tablets
Companies like IBM and a growing list of other vendors are already extending their collaboration apps to tablets, but extending an existing collaboration platform is often possible. Besides general practices at the network access and tablet levels, there's the collaboration platform itself to worry about, including built-In security checks and audits.
Extending enterprise collaboration to tablets in your organization might add some additional requirements to your internally hosted or cloud-based collaboration platform. These include:
- SSL encryption for all communications. Look for 256-bit SSL to protect data transport between the collaboration platform and the tablet user.
- Strong data encryption. Database protection should be with 256-bit AES data encryption. Limit access to an IP range.
- Mobile-specific security settings. Shut down clients by type to allow or disallow web, desktop, and mobile from connecting with your network. Administrators configure in-app settings to control access through IP ranges. Setup password strength requirements.
- Directory services support. Look for Active Directory or LDAP support, depending on your organizational standard.
- Detailed access logs. Look for a platform with detailed logs per user/device that's fully auditable. The logs should be in a fully encrypted database on the server.
Outside of locking down your enterprise collaboration platform, here are a few other options to pursue for extending enterprise collaboration to your organization's tablets:
- Standardize on a SharePoint app (if you are a SharePoint shop). A big question for organizations standardized on Microsoft SharePoint is how to get their tablets to access SharePoint data. I use SharePlus (available for the iPad and Android), but there's also Moprise (another iPad favorite), mDMS, Forms Central, FocusShareEZ, and Filamente Lite. SharePoint apps for the iPad are an interesting lot, because they exist at the intersection of the Apple user experience and, well, SharePoint. My first reaction to using SharePlus was, "It's like they put an iPad wrapper on a SharePoint site." So, I recommend some user training, depending on the tablet users reactions to the apps.
- Use third-party cloud services for file collaboration. If SharePoint isn't a standard inside your organization, or you can't justify extending your on-premise collaboration tools to tablet users for budget, staffing, or infrastructure reasons, then look to third-party cloud services like Central Desktop, Huddle, Dropbox, or Box for file collaboration. These services have both free and fee-based offerings with solid iPad and Android clients for tablet users.
- Use Unified Communications (UC). Today's UC platforms combine the best of VoIP calling, Video conferencing, IM, and presence for cubicle-bound and mobile users, which is integral for communications and collaboration with coworkers. Going with a UC platform like Microsoft Lync or Cisco Jabber (complete with iPad and Android clients) can provide full communications and collaborative access to coworkers, customers, and partners.
- Use cloud-based project management applications. While Microsoft Project is the standard project management application in many organizations, there are some exciting things happening with cloud-based project management applications. For example, LiquidPlanner -- which has a robust feature set and clients for Android and the iPad -- helps centralize all your project management data and artifacts, making them equally accessible to cubicle-bound workers on their PCs and mobile workers using tablets out in the field.
Of course, the same old basics, like requiring your entire network to create strong passwords that expire over time, still apply when you add tablets to your enterprise collaboration mix.
Tablets, enterprise collaboration, and your organization
Taking extra care with both tablet and enterprise requirements means extending collaboration to your organization's tablet users can be done without sacrificing productivity or security. Have you implemented tablets in your organization? Share you experience with tablets and enterprise collaboration 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.