Apple iPad and mobile business user

Driven by an upsurge in enterprise apps, the iPad and rival tablets will assume a crucial role for modern business usersPhoto: Annie Mole

Boardrooms across the UK have become home to the tablet computer. But is the iPad, and its rival products, really an important business tool or just an executive gadget? Mark Samuels reports.

Executives always seem keen to take hold of the latest mobile technology and be part of the consumer revolution. But just how far that enthusiasm translates into serious business use with Apple’s iPad and other tablets is not entirely clear. So talked to five IT leaders about the current state of tablet adoption and the likely route of future development.

There’s little doubt that tablets, in particular the iPad, are the subject of incredible fanaticism. You only have to watch the news during an Apple product launch to see the fervour among the company’s legion of devoted fans. But such excitement must be tempered in a business context.

“They’re just a tool and should be treated as such,” says Hampshire County Council CIO Jos Creese, who says technology in the organisation must be judged on its value and effectiveness. He says tablets could help break the tendency of executives to hide behind laptop screens during important meetings. Yet, again, he says real success must relate to business outcomes.

“People assume iPads will transform the workplace but I don’t think they necessarily will. I’m not terribly excited about tablets per se. Technology moves on and there’s always something new and different just around the corner,” he says.

“The iPad is a nice interface. But don’t just get excited about the design. If it proves to be a competent tool, in regards to helping your employees to complete a specific job, then great.”

Understand the power of knowledge

Experienced IT leader and former Transport for London CIO Ian Campbell believes the tablet will have a huge impact on the knowledge-intensive modern business. Driven by an upsurge in enterprise apps for portable devices, Campbell believes the iPad and associated rival technologies will assume a crucial role in the modern organisation.

“The iPad started as the latest technological plaything, yet it’s quickly become popular as a work tool among executives. As for being an enterprise essential, I’m not sure we’re quite there yet,” he says. But Campbell does expect that point to arrive – and soon.

“In two years, I think many senior executives will be wondering how they ever completed their tasks without a tablet device. Tablets are geared around apps. The more that come out, the better the enterprise experience,” says Campbell.

“The early successes in the boardroom have shown how…


…the instant availability of information can help executives make crucial business decisions quickly. Success now is all about the power of instant knowledge and this is where the tablet can make a difference.”

Focus on interoperability and security

Visa Europe Services CTO Adam Banks expects the tablet market to explode with new devices, encompassing a range of different sizes, functions and configurations. Add in seamless convergence with cloud computing functions, such as storage and software, and Banks says the smart, portable device could easily replace the PC. He does, however, issue a word of warning.

Apple's iPad

Even though many executives see the iPad as a status symbol and use it for entertainment, there’s no doubt tablets are a platform that’s here to stay in businessPhoto: Apple

“The tablet could become a must-have for sales teams, or other roles requiring information sharing and collaboration, if the applications are designed to be delivered on the device. But to effectively exploit the strengths of a tablet, significant changes or enhancements to your application portfolio are required,” he says.

Banks says the key is to ensure interoperability. Executives need to be able to walk into any boardroom and use the device and, at the moment, further attention needs to be centred on back-end concerns. Banks pays particular attention to IT security requirements

“Tablets can be set up to provide relevant security modes but at the expense of a number of their features. Companies, such as Good Technology, are looking at ways to secure tablets in a more usable manner, which could ensure their features and their security for business use.”

Find a device that works for you

Marcus East, CIO at Comic Relief, thinks tablets – especially the iPad – will transform enterprise computing. The reason, he says, is because tablets will rapidly become a cost-effective and essential business tool for certain users.

East owns an Apple MacBook Air and an iPad, and he says the devices serve quite different purposes. East says using a laptop in a meeting can create a barrier between attendees. On the other hand, he says the iPad is less intrusive and he is able to use the device in a similar way to a paper notepad or diary.

“The biggest benefit for me, though, is the fact that I can take my notes in an electronic form in the knowledge that they are stored in the cloud and simultaneously accessible from all my other computers and devices,” he says.

“I can access all of my important files, locally or online, and so the iPad is rarely from my side. For users who don’t need the power of a full computer on the move, a tablet is a cost-effective and easy-to-use replacement.”

Start experimenting now

Dharmesh Mistry, CTO and operations officer at edge IPK, says he has lost count of the number of times he has boarded a plane and found executives in business class glued to their iPads: “Walking by and looking back reveals that mostly they are playing Angry Birds or watching a movie,” he adds.

Mistry says the tablet is clearly a status symbol for some managers. He refers to a global insurance firm who gave executives iPads as an experiment. “While a good idea, it might have been better to give tablets to a variety of people across the business to see what they could derive from the device,” says Mistry.

But such initiatives are a starting point for a platform that is clearly here to stay, adds Mistry. There are aspects of the device that suit mobile workers, and early adopters have an opportunity to create competitive differentiation. Mistry advises CIOs to start investigating now.

“Get to grips with the iPad, and other tablets, and work across the business to drive innovation in business processes that will lead to increased revenues, cost savings or real efficiency gains,” he says. “Understand and exploit the differences of a tablet. Don’t treat it as a laptop without a keyboard.”