Six enterprise-grade uses for adopting tablets today

Patrick Gray believes that there are several compelling applications for adopting tablets in the enterprise. Do you agree, or do you think that tablets are primarily a consumer device?

Tablets have a nice form factor and are obviously tearing up the consumer space, but a common complaint is that they have little applicability to the enterprise. There's a long list of reasons why tablets are troublesome from a logistical perspective, including security, manageability, and provisioning -- but one reason stands out above the rest: there aren't a ton of compelling enterprise applications. Or are there?

Last week, Jack Wallen wrote about professions that would be benefit from tablet technology. Now, I'd like to focus on the enterprise. While a tablet may not light your world afire, consider the following enterprise-grade uses as you adopt tablets for a large-scale deployment or even a more limited trial.

Field service

Credit: Amazon

Tablets seem like a compelling solution for personnel who spend most of their time in the field. They could replace printed documentation and provide your field people with simple and low-maintenance access to e-mail and basic corporate applications. A tablet could act as anything from an easily-updated library of technical manuals, order entry portal, signature capture tool, to a mapping and tracking system. At about half to a third of the cost of current "rugged" tablets, these devices could almost be considered disposable.

Executive/knowledge worker companion

Tablets are a surprisingly effective tool in meetings. There's easy access to your calendar and e-mail, and you can view and share most standard Microsoft Office documents quickly. Tablets don't create the "wall" of an open laptop when sharing or note taking, and they also have the benefit of a full day's battery.

Many organizations already have web-based portals with dashboards and key monitoring applications. If you put these on a tablet, they can easily be monitored by mobile executives, many of whom might even be able to make due with a tablet since their assistants are already doing the "heavy lifting" on their full-fledged computers.

Convenience, not necessarily greenness

A tablet is a great way of replacing reams of documentation, from training and technical manuals to video-based product demonstrations and fast-changing information like prices and customer lists. Many companies already publish this sort of information online in some manner, so adapting it to tablet consumption might be as simple as providing an optimized web site or tablet-accessible storage. However, do be wary of pitching any tablet introduction as a "green" solution. I'm no expert in what makes up a modern tablet, but they do include noxious materials and energy-intensive manufacturing techniques that are probably not particularly green.

Conferencing and collaboration

One of my favorite tablet uses is video conferencing. While I'd like to say I'm facilitating important discussions and client interactions, my primary use is to see my 2-year-old and wife while traveling. This may stretch the boundaries of "enterprise use," but I've found tools like Skype on tablets more effective, easier to use, and obviously cheaper than the "enterprise" alternatives. I've worked with clients who have deployed fairly unwieldy computer-based communications tools at a per-seat cost that nears the price of a tablet when one considers the required support infrastructure. Tablet-based video sharing just might be a quick and dirty way to deploy easy video conferencing to your far-flung employees.

The "third screen"

Netbooks, and now tablets, have been heralded as a "third screen." This is marketing speak for what manufactures hope you'll adopt as a potential third computing device, after your desktop and laptop. It may seem like a bit of marketing hooey, but tablets can serve anywhere you need a cheap, connected, interactive screen. Think of every kiosk application you may have been asked to create or support, and the struggles with niche hardware, managing a "heavy" OS on a single-purpose device, and concerns about whether any custom tools or hardware will exist in the future.

Tablets give you an easy solution, and if you design your "third screen" applications using web-based tools, you've effectively future-proofed the application. With light operating systems and minimal services running on them, your tablet could presumably sit for years, running your kiosk application with nary a firmware update or OS patch. You could even create a "loaner pool" of tablets to deploy at trade shows and sales calls, with interactive kiosk applications and product catalogs.

Learn your market

If you're in a consumer-facing business, at this juncture, there's no question that a significant number of your customers are buying and using tablets. Even if none of the above reasons provide any immediate value to your organization, there's a compelling case to be made that part of understanding your customers is understanding the tools and technologies they're using. As technology permeates our lives, companies that ignore consumer-driven trends are effectively ignoring a significant development in their customer's lives, and they risk alienating those very customers.

While there's still a valid complaint that there's no "must-have" application for tablets in the enterprise, there are several applications that are very compelling. Shift your mindset from trying to replace existing laptops and desktops to augmenting their functionality and delivering a better experience in your company to field personnel, executives, and highly-mobile knowledge workers.


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 ...


They send their reps in the field with a pad of paper. The reps evaluate the damage & take notes, then come back to the office to enter the figures into their application & it spits out an estimate. It would save them time (=money) if there was a mobile app to do the initial note-taking. A medical facility we work with is in the planning stages of using iPads, VPN and RDP to pull up patient files to use during procedures, and a docking station/keyboard to update the files after the procedures. There's a ton of *potential* business uses for tablets, they just haven't quite reached critical mass yet. Once the price drops a bit & everyone has them, I think you'll see a lot more business apps.


In the last few weeks I made the decision to add my iPad to my business technology in the hopes that I could figure out how to be more efficient and nimble. I now have the 3rd screen referenced above - an HP desktop, a Lenova laptop, and now my iPad. I have taken my iPad2 and have souped it up with some business applications, note taking apps (no more paper pads in my work life), and some additional productivity apps. Kind of bummed that my original keyboard docking station for my original iPad is not compatable with the iPad2. Ordered a new Apple bluetooth keyboard yesterday - a $69 investment in my hopes to go paperless this year! For now I am learning the value of the 3rd screen. I can easily download more static data to my iPad and have this at my finger tips. I am using Roambi to present data in all new ways - Clients are very impressed (if they only knew how easy it is). Note taking is awesome and easily stores my notes - no more multiple pads. If I need to share, I e-mail as a pdf and print. Cool. I just added Bento and look forward to creating new ways of leveraging this tool (too bad no Bento for a PC yet). My third screen is bloated and needs to be organized and trimmed back - too many apps downloaded and not used. I need a new printing solution when I am on the road (home printing is easy with Apple Airport Extreme). Need a new file sharing software, although Dropbox is certainly working OK for now.


Patrick, I agree that tablets are great devices and have a WebOS TouchPad. What re your thoughts about security with tablets? From an IT standpoint they can hold access to the most critical business data, but have low security protection.


The note-taking app would save on the amount of paper being carried around... but unless the estimate-creation app on their office PC can sync with their tablet *and* directly import the data from the tablet's note-taking app (either in the existing format or via data-conversion), they'll still have to manually enter the data into their office PC to generate the estimate. Not saying it couldn't get to that stage -- in fact, it *should* be moved towards that stage -- but not sure it's there yet.


I too am concerned about security. I am an IT Manager for a financial institution and we have regulations coming out of our ears. We also are always in some sort of exam or audit.