Tablets

Why tablets matter for enterprise users

Patrick Gray details the reasons why tablets are relevant and states that ignoring tablet technology is inexcusable.

In my TechRepublic IT Leadership column I recently wrote about technical solutions looking for a problem. In some of the responses to my tablet-related TechRepublic articles readers have wondered aloud whether tablets are in the same vein: a technical solution to a non-existent problem.

This is an interesting and legitimate question, and while tablet hardware is fairly inexpensive, a large-scale deployment and the associated support and maintenance costs are not insignificant. Accounting for the obvious bias of a writer who writes weekly columns about the wonders of tablets, I'll offer an answer of "yes" to the question of whether tablets are relevant. Here's why.

Fast and light

Two of the most innovative features of the current crop of tablets are conceptually the most mundane: fast boot times and exceptional portability. In an age when full-blown laptop computers can boot in 12 seconds or less and weigh around 3 lbs, an instantly-accessible device that shaves 12 ounces seems less than exciting, and one wonders how much these seeming trivialities matter. Instant accessibility and portability make one far more likely to use the device for rapid access to "glanceable" information.

The BlackBerry and other smartphones revolutionized the mundane old application of email by making it universally available and accessible, rather than booting up a larger device and the associated applications. I believe tablets will perform a similar feat for a larger pool of information and applications that might range from rapidly accessible and instantly updated dashboard-style management reports, to knowledge sharing and collaboration tools that have suffered by being chained to laptops.

Collaboration 2.0

Since the dawn of computing we've seen technologies that promised to accelerate and enable that corporate stalwart: the meeting. While tools like SharePoint have brought some of this vision to life, I've always found laptops to hinder collaborative work, since they create an instant barrier to personal interaction the moment the screen is raised. In most companies, the detailed creative work takes place in person, over a whiteboard or via a conference call, and the technical tools are updated after the fact. Tablets, on the other hand, can be passed around, poked, and prodded; they facilitate human interaction rather than hinder it, and capture ideas in real time. While technology will never replace skills like meeting management and delegation, tablets can finally provide what every good technology should: an accelerant to an already successful human process.

Laptop replacement

While the TechRepublic community may balk at replacing a "loaded" desktop or laptop with a low-end tablet computer, the majority of workers in most companies use little beyond email, web browsing, and perhaps a handful of enterprise applications. As these workers migrate toward web-based front ends and the major players expand their tablet offerings, issuing and maintaining pools of traditional laptops makes less sense. With fewer moving parts and near-ubiquitous commercial availability, you could almost "outsource" your hardware maintenance to the local big-box electronics store, allowing remote employees to swap a defective unit that's then remotely provisioned just like a BlackBerry or other smartphone. I'm very excited that the lines between consumer and enterprise hardware, at least at the end user level, are blurring. Tracking, repairing, and managing a huge pool of computers seems more of a distraction than a valuable function for the modern IT shop, and tablets move us just a bit further away from this function.

Gauge tablets' relevance to your organization

Speculation is certainly a low-risk art, and I completely understand IT leaders regarding any new technology with a dose of healthy skepticism. Most CIOs are regularly faced with all manner of challenges, and the IT press spouting off about the wonders of tablets may seem like yet another burden rather than helpful commentary.

That said, while it's too early for most organizations to rush headlong into a widespread tablet deployment, there's little excuse not to be conducting at least an informal test in this area and gauging the relevance to your organization. Get a bit creative here, and perhaps allow a couple of junior developers to experiment with connecting their personal tablets to corporate systems, and presenting their findings to IT leadership as a low-cost way to dip your toe into the tablet waters. While a wait and see attitude is appropriate at this point, simply ignoring tablet technology is inexcusable.

About

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 ...

19 comments
chdchan
chdchan

The tablet hype has been exaggerated with over-marketing while Android version upgrade has been too frequent, but lack of upgradeability for most tablet models left them fast obsolete and paved the way for makers' rolling out newer models for excessive revenue generation. Perhaps hardware makers have been long envying too much about Microsoft's trick of unduly upgrading and Android now makes their day.

RaymondJM4
RaymondJM4

I think a person can find a place for anything, but I fear we get lost in looking for reasons to replace what is working for ways to solve problems. A nurse would benefit from having a medical record chart on a tablet instead of hardcopy form. An electrical engineer would not benefit from using anything less than the strongest processing power on the market. Trying to find a way to justify a tablet for an engineer would be ridiculous. Finding a better way to have current medical information complete and updated system wide in real time would be innovative. I know people have problems with Microsoft and security, but until there are centralized security management suites that have been tested like a new form of medication, the path for many devices not running a MOS will have a steep hill to climb in order to be seen as legitimate in the professional world.

open_source_user_01
open_source_user_01

Windows 8 will enable the end user experience with FULL 100% functionality of all virus/malware/trojan/spyware capabilities. ONLY then will the end user be happy. I find it amazing people are so inflexible to see the changing landscape where companies are reducing cost of software with more secure, less-expensive, scalable solutions where virtual apps reign. This goes back to Windows NT the disaster, look at the charts and stats. Apache = #1 powering websites, I sure don't see IIS going up it is going down! http://news.netcraft.com/ Along with the countless millions of devices/routers/switches/smart_phones and of course Google with Android running a Linux variant. With technology you will be swept away by refusing to accept change.

ktsaved
ktsaved

From the previews I have seen, when Windows 8 appears on tablets then I feel they will have the functionality to fully replace laptops for users on the go. Right now tablets work for some who's needs are light. We looked at tablets for some users and while some can use them, for others they are a larger duplication of their smartphone and do not provide the full fuctionality they need. Those users have gone with the smallest form factor laptops for now.

tommy
tommy

Sorry Patrick, but I've lost count of the number of times threads on these blogs on the theme of 'tablets rule' have appeared of late. Have you guys and gals got nothing better to write about? In this particular article, which echo's so many others on these boards, you suggest that I should Gauge tablets relevance to my organization, and that I have little excuse not to be conducting at least an informal test in this area and gauging the relevance to my organization. What dross! Tests in what area? What relevance? The strongest arguments you can come up with for me looking at the technology is that tablets are fast and light in comparison with laptops, which is true. They're also expensive, insecure and offer considerably less bang for your buck then a laptop. You propose that "the majority of workers in most companies use little beyond email, web browsing, and perhaps a handful of enterprise applications." Erm. Yes. But when the "handful of enterprise applications" are the backbone of your enterprise, mass role out of an expensive tool that won't operate these applications is almost as ridiculous as the idea that any but a very few businesses will be even remotely interested in spending 100's of thousands of pounds/dollars/sheckles in development of browser-centric versions of the same software. You state that the lines between consumer and enterprise hardware, at least at the end user level, are blurring. I suggest you get down to Specsavers mate. You and a number of your colleagues seemingly can't focus on the fact that while there are a great many niche uses that can be 'invented' for a tablet to do (Technical solutions looking for a problem - Patrick Gray Nov 2011), and that there are some genuinely great applications out there which makes a tablet the ideal choice of tool (Disney uses iPads to drive construction project - Jason Hiner Aug 2011), tablets are not a global panacea, and never will be. To coin one of your own phrases, "Focus on the content, not the tablet thats used to deliver it." (Patrick Gray - Nov 2011). Take your own advice, sir.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"... workers migrate toward web-based front ends ... there???s little excuse not to be conducting at least an informal test in this area ..." Not to belittle the idea of testing, but there's my excuse. The majority of our apps where I work are still client-based, not web-based. I've seen no initiatives to move them to our intranet; indeed; I don't think we have the programming skills in house to do so. The single web-based app that's used by a majority of our employees is a Sharepoint-based repository for our blueprints and technical drawings. Most prefer to print these on C-size or larger, so I doubt a tablet screen would be acceptable to them. There doesn't appear to be anything for me to test but I'm a 'Level 2.5' tech, not a visionary.

cbci
cbci

After suffering this article from stem to stern, it should be noted that tablets are not a new technology. While kudos go to Steve for the ooh-aah factor surrounding the release of the IPad, the factor has faded, the competition has shown up, and IT has been classifying these tools, just like any other item in the IT arsenal. Fast and Light - (and pricey) A netbook with a six cell battery and a SSD drive can be had for about the same price as the low end IPad. These netbooks boot as fast and run as long. Plus, in addition to accessing email and all things "cloud", they run Windows and thus Windows-based, vertical-market software natively. In addition, you can take the netbook and quickly attach it to the far end of that 100 meter ethernet run to see if there is any signal out there before breaking out the test equipment. BTW, "Chained to a desktop" is a believable concept, "chained to laptops" sounds a little goofy. Collaboration 2.0 In a meeting, Sharepoint has nothing on Teamviewer and an electronic whiteboard. As far as a barrier, one has to lift a tablet to get it to a proper viewing angle. Unless reference is given to some widely available survey, the phrase 'in most companies' should never appear in these blogs because it is more often than not simply presumptuous. In my experience, while the origination of an idea and the finishing touches are often applied in person, in groups, the detailed creative work takes place in the solitude of individual offices and cubicles. Laptop Replacement (Again with the "the majority of workers in most companies" line) It might surprise some people that the majority of workers in most companies either don't use computers at all or use embedded computers which produce data the user never accesses. In many situations tablet adoption is going to have to wait for vertical software to find it's way to the cloud - public or private. Which means it is going to have to wait for security and regulatory concerns to be addressed. As for the rest of this topic, I'm guessing you've never heard of MSPs. You should really check out this section of the IT market. Gauging Relevance Again, tablets are not new technology. I will dare say most inexcusably ignorant IT personnel have been adapting our infrastructures in the almost two years since the frenzied release of the original IPad. Through this experience we have learned tablets are just another tool. And, helping our clients and employers to view them as such has, and will, save most organizations a lot of time and money.

Ingmgr
Ingmgr

Well, the company where I work is engineering based and using tablets. Engineers make field trips do they not? This is where the tablets shine and have increased their efficiency. Anything that was previously done with paper, can now be replaced by use of a tablet. When one looks around, it's amazing what you see as potential for use of the tablets. Admit an Engineer would not use a tablet to do heavy design work but now one can carry and have access to a 3D model via tablet when away from their desktop. Can also easily carry, organize and have easy reference to tons of reference design documents while away from the desk. Amazing technology and we a only in the infancy of finding uses for tablets in a working Engineering environment.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And what does the web site engine of choice have to do with the tablet OS or browser used?

pgray
pgray

Not to state the obvious, but you are reading "Tablets in the Enterprise". Suggesting that we stop talking about tablets might be akin to complaining that Vogue spends too much time talking about high fashion. I do indeed suggest that you focus on content and the business problem being solved by a tablet; however it's also our job in IT to investigate new tools and I've tried to offer low risk/low cost ways to do so. I don't recall suggesting tablets "rule" or are the solution to every problem. A Tablets blog is naturally going to be biased towards tablets, but I do worry some in IT might miss the boat by not at least working with a few of these devices to check the current market, get the creative juices flowing, and if nothing else, be able to adopt a rational and fact-based "we're going to wait and see" attitude. On a larger and perhaps philosophical note, one of the great risks of corporate IT is irrelevance as the user community who grew up with technology wonders why IT is always saying "no," especially when they don't have first-hand experience of the technology under discussion.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I always look askew at the notion that laptops inhibit conversation. At least with a open laptop the user's head is up. With a tablet, the user is looking down at the desk. How is that more conducive to collaboration, especially if there are multiple tablets in use? I'm with you on the whiteboard, or a laptop or tablet on a projector. That way everyone is seeing the same thing, one person can do the editing for all, and no one is playing Minesweeper.

AudeKhatru
AudeKhatru

Wow, this is much more considered and straightforward than I was likely to be. Most people don't sit in meetings very often, and most workers don't have laptops, so a lot of what he is talking about does not really apply to "most".

cbci
cbci

But, let's also agree that your interpretation of certain comments as suggesting we stop talking about tablets in said blog is as valid as the conclusion by others that statements such as "pools of traditional laptops makes less sense" and "a huge pool of computers seems more of a distraction" might suggest you hold the belief that tablets "rule". Being able to come here for relevant information regarding tablets has previously proven helpful. I don't think anyone is suggesting this venue be changed but, this particular article fell short of relevance or usefulness. Maybe I just missed the low risk/low cost offer. Again, the device that started this all is now two years on the market. But, even before then, any IT department that has wanted to stay relevant has been evaluating laptops, slates, convertibles, netbooks, and now, tablets. What most IT personnel could use is sound, well researched, business oriented discussion about the use of each of the tools in the enterprise. If that's what the user brings, they will get an audience in my office. If not, than I'm sorry, but sometimes "no" is quicker, and often kinder, than trying to explain the difference between my clients' networks and the user's home network, or the local Starbuck's. In closing, just a little tip: When facing a "user community who grew up with technology wonders", maybe the best thing to do is remind them that this latest tech craze was brought forth by a 50-something.

tommy
tommy

Yup, this is a Tablets Blog. Thanks for that. My point was that I receive a great many e-mails from TechRepublic, which I'm quite happy with as a rule. There are some real nuggets buried in here. The number of 'Tablet' based headliners on the past few months has been very high, however, and the quality of the opening to discussions generally very poor. To allay your fears, I'm pretty sure that anyone following these boards as a whole will only have missed the plethora of discussions on the topic of tablets if they've been away for a considerable period of time. There's little chance that any regular TechRepublic subscribers might will miss the boat in this respect. I'm equally sure that the majority of your readers will have had some first hand exposure to the technology. You say that you've offered low risk/low cost ways to investigate the use of tablets in your Blog. Going out and spending a few thousand pounds so I can work with "a few of these devices and check out the market" is a sound, low-cost strategy for making a proper assessment of a potential enterprise-wide IT systems platform is it? You're notion that tablets are relevant because they're fast and light (so is my phone), they're handy in meetings (they're a huge annoyance in meetings, just like laptops), and they're great for e-mail and web browsing (true, but so's my wife) does nothing to back up your opening statements. If anything it's reinforced my opinion that tablets are a media frenzy / marketing fad simply because you haven't offered any evidence to the contrary. With respect to your philosophical note, I can offer my current perspective on tablets having used tablets in the past. Very successfully I might add. I believe I have significant first-hand experience of the technology under discussion having helped develop Windows and Psion tablet based application systems myself. That was 8 years ago. The technology has moved on, but the basic pro's con's of tablet technologies are identical in almost every respect. If anything they're worse in many ways when considering systems interoperability. You're president of a company providing strategic consulting services. I would love to hear your experience of tablet use in industry, assuming you have any. Outside of the boardroom (executive toys) or as a media platform for sales and marketing (where a tablet would be a real boon) I'm unaware of any but a few genuine, cost effective, business process driven projects that use tablet based applications. Show me examples of tablets in use in an enterprise as the technology of choice. Not because they're some technophiles wet dream, or a gadget guru's latest toy, but because they're demonstrably a cost effective solution to a genuine business need. Writing about real-life development of the platform and it's practical applications will rock my world. Driving the supposition that tablets are great because they're 'fast and light' etc is simply poor journalism. The IT press spouting off about the wonders of tablets IS another burden, and a LONG way from helpful commentary.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This discussion is from last year, and tommy hasn't been seen in a couple of months.

Ingmgr
Ingmgr

Ok, I'm curious to your background. You sound like a lot of IT admins I've had to interface with over the last year. I'm not in IT, rather just a user who saw the light on where tablets can add real value in an enterprise world. Started an initiative over 12 months ago and today use of tablets within our industry has exploded. Let me just point out that fast, light, full day battery life and on demand data connection is the main reasons users have taken to the tablets. It's opened up a whole new world and there is absolutely no doupt we are in the midst of something special. If you can't see where this technology can be used in today's environment, I'm speechless. No more tethered to a desktop and for the first time, an opportunity to go paperless. Yes there are data security concerns but there are solutions to everything, including this. I've listened to IT for the last year say things like I'm reading here and just smile as deployment and usage of tablets, driven by users may I add, in the enterprise environment gains steam daily.

pgray
pgray

It's certainly fair that "a few thousand pounds" may be outside some IT budgets. I work primarily with large companies, so that's a drop in a bucket, and a sum that's wasted on "all hands meetings" on a weekly basis. Alternatively I've also suggested you tap into staff's personal tablets, and have the same staff present their findings as a "research project" of sorts. In this case, you spend nothing on hardware, and give your employees a chance to hone their presentation skills; there's a cost in terms of time, but I'd guess it would consume time otherwise lost to internet browsing or similar. In terms of actual application, I worked on one of the first global windows tablet deployments, and still have the cranky old Fujitsu tablet sitting in a drawer as a souvenir and have worked with the various iterations of Windows tablets until recently. The core problem with the deployments I've worked on really was a matter of speed and size, although all of them have been targeted at field sales/service. When you're sitting in front of a potential customer waiting for your tablet to boot and load the application, you're potentially losing a sale, so fast & light really is a revolution with monetary value in that case. For other applications I'd agree that may not be the case. In terms of tablet-related content in other blogs, to my knowledge Tablets in the Enterprise started back in September. I write a weekly leadership column here as well that used to feature some tablet-related content, and that has since moved here.

tommy
tommy

You've got it Palmetto. It's not posts about tablets in this blog that's got me on the soap-box. This is, undeniably, a tablet related blog. No arguments there. The large number of blogs that are poorly put together, ill conceived and at best, offer useless commentary on the state of the art is what I find so irritating.... and yes there's far too many of them. This is Patrick's output over the past couple of months: Why tablets matter for enterprise users - Nov 29th Don't let Big Brother derail your tablet deployment - Nov 21st Test BYOD in your organization with employee tablets - Nov 14th Focus on the content, not the tablet that's used to deliver it - Nov 7th Predicting the future of tablets in the enterprise - Oct 24th Tools for managing and securing tablets in the enterprise - Oct 19th The death of the tablet OS - Oct 14th Four tips for conducting a tablet deployment test - Oct 10th Six enterprise-grade uses for adopting tablets today - Oct 3rd Four missiles I'd launch to re-write Microsoft's tablet battle plan - Sept 26th Three reasons why Microsoft will never regain tablet dominance - Sept 19th IT leadership often determines iPad success in the enterprise - Sept 12th I've not bothered to collate any of the blogs from other authors, but there's plenty more where these came from. Patronising rhetoric offering no compelling reason for tablet use while offering ridiculous suppositions on the role of "the majority of workers in most companies" is not of interest to me. I'm not impressed with the realisation that the author sees many of the readers here as Luddites with little or no experience of the technologies they themselves are so admiring of either. It's not all doom and gloom. Can I tilt my hat to Jason Hiner; the only author I can remmeber of who has, in the past five months, actually come up with a working example of tablet use with his piece "Tablets at work: Disney uses iPads to drive construction project". This is the kind of material I would like to read on this site with examples of real life systems deployment and development.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

it isn't the posts about tablet in the enterprise that appear in the "Tablets in the Enterprise" blog. It's the posts about tablets in the enterprise running rampant in every other TR blog.

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