The consumer electronics superstar of the last few years has, without a doubt, been Apple's iPad. Initially panned by many critics as a "giant iPhone," the device has sold hundreds of millions of units and is now under serious consideration as an enterprise device by many companies. While a clear hit with consumers and a compelling platform for everything from web browsing to gaming, many CIOs I've spoken with wonder if this thing is actually relevant to the enterprise or just a consumer-grade toy.
The simple answer is that it depends on how you're approaching tablets in your company. Essentially, I see two approaches to integrating the iPad, which are also applicable to other consumer-type devices. Many see the iPad as a technology solution looking for a problem, and they begrudgingly purchase a dozen tablets since "everyone's doing it" or someone in marketing has been endlessly hounding the CFO for a few devices.
If you approach the iPad — and tablets in general — from this angle, the iPad is not only a toy but a world of hurt for any CIO. The iPad lacks "enterprise-grade" manageability, requires a slew of new development and deployment tools, and looks about as daunting as trying to get Mom's minivan "race ready" for the Daytona 500.
While there are workarounds for some of the iPad's perceived flaws, if you apply your existing enterprise IT model to the device, you will likely find more frustration than success — and you'll inflict the same on your users by trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
The second approach I see CIOs taking is readily evident when they first pick up the device. For these folks, the iPad is the solution to problems they've faced for years: a light, simple device that can readily access information and do some easy data capture. In upcoming posts, we'll talk more about some immediately applicable business problems the iPad can help solve.
Frankly, there are several problems that technology can solve where traditional enterprise-grade functionality is not only less relevant, but it actually gets in the way of solving the problem. Consumer-grade technology gives you access to the latest thinking and is often far more quick-and-dirty than the slower-moving enterprise space. Whether you need to build a kiosk in five days for a trade show or equip your field service staff with a shelf full of technical manuals that they can carry in the palm of their hand, technologies like the iPad present fast, inexpensive solutions.
In short, whether the iPad succeeds or fails in your enterprise is often driven by the IT leadership's perception of the device. If you open the box and see headaches ranging from manageability to access control, save yourself the agony and leave the iPad to consumers. On the other hand, if you see a quick and low-cost solution to a raft of nagging business problems, the iPad may be the technology "duct tape" you've been waiting for — that is, a cheap (but imperfect) solution to all manner of enterprise problems.
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.