As I wrote in a previous column, success of tablet devices often depends on how an organization perceives them. If your IT leadership sees tablets as an inexpensive and portable "connected screen" that could solve all manner of problems, you're likely chomping at the bit to get some tablets in place and tested. However, if they're seen by IT as yet another headache that must be learned, managed, and locked down, they will likely be less successful. In either case, you may be considering a tablet deployment test -- proactively or due to pressure from another business unit. While I still contend that IT's attitude is a key factor in driving tablet success, the following advice can help a test deployment go more smoothly.
Set some goals
A tablet deployment test should focus on one thing above all else: Will these devices solve some business problem? This question should drive every aspect of your test deployment and should always trump IT-centric questions. Brainstorm some usage scenarios or problems a tablet could solve and test them in your pilot, but also be sure that enough knowledgeable and passionate people are included in the pilot who might see solutions to problems that IT didn't even know existed.
If nothing else, use a tablet deployment test to show that IT is forward-thinking. Even the least tech-savvy CEO has seen an iPad, and he or she is likely to be suspicious of an IT department that never mentions or considers the tablet form factor.
Get a broad base
There's a tendency to regard technology-based tools as the sole domain of IT, and this is a mistake with tablets. Surely, your tech people should have access to several different models to test manageability, connectivity, and the usual technology suspects, but much of the interest in tablets is coming from groups like marketing. Smartphones, apps, and tablets have set the consumer space on fire, and if your marketing people aren't clamoring to better understand and leverage these devices (assuming you're a business-to-consumer company), check to make sure they're still breathing.
Similarly, folks out in the field have long had problems that might be solved by an inexpensive, portable, connected device. Many field service groups currently use tablet computers, and the new crop of consumer devices may be easier to use and more cost-effective for these users. Even the denizens of the boardroom might be interested in tablets for anything from document distribution to monitoring "dashboard" applications on financial and operational performance.
In short, you'll get better feedback and perhaps interesting use cases the more widely you cast the tablet net. Additionally, consider giving those most enthusiastic about tablets the opportunity to spend a few weeks with different manufacturer's products, including Android, iOS, and Microsoft-based offerings in the pilot program.
Throw out the rulebook
The organizations that will struggle most with tablets are the ones that try to force them into old paradigms of IT management and deployment. For your pilot, forget the rules and start with a clean slate. Do you really need service and vendor support contracts and infrastructure, or do you keep a couple of reserve devices in a cabinet or pick up the phone and order a new device when one breaks? Do you need to cram security services that don't exist onto the device, or could you create a secure, centralized portal or just prohibit access to "the secret stuff" altogether? Give folks various levels of security and access and see what they can (or cannot) do with them.
I recall a story about ESPN using an iPad to do on-screen sketches (where the announcer draws all manner of lines and arrows over a stop-motion sports shot to explain a point). They used what amounted to a shareware remote screen control application and replaced a five-figure custom system with something their announcers actually liked better from a usability standpoint. Most companies probably have similar opportunities if they "forget" their corporate baggage.
Capture the negatives
We've all heard how tablets are not ready for the enterprise, because they're rife with security and manageability risks. Use your pilot program to quantify these risks so they can be weighed against the business problems tablets might solve. I'd even go so far as to "steal" one of the pilot tablets (with the victim's knowledge, of course) and assign one of your most tech-savvy coders to crack the device and see what sensitive information he or she can retrieve. Test the remote wipe and device location features to find out how they compare to your mobile computing manageability. See if all the horror stories are true, and if they are, you'll have a compelling case as to why tablets might not be the right route now, rather than summoning the mercurial security boogeyman.
With a thoughtful and considered approach, IT can conduct a successful tablet pilot and get the benefit of driving the discussion, rather than being forced to adopt something they had no say or control over. In the worst case, after a pilot program, you'll know what you're in for when the demands come from the Powers That Be to launch a tablet "or else."
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.