By now, you have probably heard all of the hype regarding how Tablet PCs can be used in meetings. You also might have wondered if that is the only place a user can work with a Tablet PC. Not surprisingly a large development effort has been underway to make the Tablet PC more than just a fancy note taker. In fact, many Support professionals are already troubleshooting these devices as they get pushed out further into the mobile workforce. I’ll take a look at some of the more unique and creative ways users are working with Tablet PCs in order to point out future opportunities you might have when it comes to supporting them.

Insurance claims
I recently had a water pipe burst in my house and the resulting flood did an enormous amount of damage. I immediately called my insurance agent who promptly sent out a claims adjuster. The claims adjuster brought with him a digital camera and a Tablet PC. He used the digital camera to take photos of the damage from the flood. He then used a USB cable to transfer the images from the camera to the Tablet PC. The insurance adjuster’s hand written notes were also stored in a Tablet PC. I am assuming the adjuster copied these notes to my insurance file upon returning to the office. Using the Tablet PC made the adjuster’s job both fast and efficient.

Delivery industry
I have a friend whose father drives a truck. Each day after completing his route, the driver must compile a report of what was delivered. The process involves a mountain of printed paper and a proprietary computing device that’s built into the truck. This proprietary computing device is very crude and consists of a rubberized keypad with a calculator-style LCD screen. From the looks of it, I’m guessing the device is also fairly expensive.

The process of keying in the necessary information takes anywhere from an hour to two hours and at the end of the day the compiled information must be uploaded to a real computer. According to my friend, the delivery company is considering doing away with this archaic system and switching to the Tablet PC. This way the driver can have all the information on those printed forms right on the Tablet PC. When making a delivery, the driver could look to see how much inventory a store has ordered, deliver the product, and have the store manager sign a form on the Tablet PC to acknowledge receipt. Later, the collected data and signatures could be uploaded to a database via a wireless network link.

If the delivery company were to make the switch to Tablet PCs, the manual data entry process done by the driver would be eliminated, thus resulting in a couple of free hours each day. The company would also save money on outfitting its fleet of trucks with proprietary computing devices, and the Tablet PCs would be completely compatible with the company’s Windows servers. As a bonus, if the company ever wanted to change order entry software, they wouldn’t have to worry about the impact on the client because both the client and the server would be running Windows operating systems. If proprietary data collection devices were to continue to be used, a change to the order entry software could be a logistical nightmare.

Medical fields
Previously, a patient’s medical records were kept in a folder on the wall of the patient’s room. Any time that a doctor, nurse, or aide would do something for the patient, they had to write down what they did in the patient’s record. Hospitals are now experimenting with issuing each staff member a Tablet PC. The patient records are stored centrally and are accessible to those staff members who need them. If staff members do something for a patient, they wirelessly retrieve the patient’s records, and write in what has been done. The idea behind using the Tablet PC is all of the handwriting is searchable. Therefore, it is possible for administrators to get very quick statistical data on a patient’s treatment.

Airport security
AutoDesk has implemented a Tablet PC-based security program at one of the country’s major (but unspecified) airports. All security and emergency response personnel have a Tablet PC, and if an emergency occurs, the necessary information can be quickly streamed to those who need it. This includes things like maps of evacuation routes, maps that pinpoint the area where the incident has occurred, aerial photography, and images from the airport’s security cameras. A spokesperson said that the Tablet PC is ideal for this type of environment because it is lightweight, efficient, easy to use, always connected to the airport’s wireless network, and durable.

The paper chase
Tablet PCs are getting the most exposure in occupations where there is a mountain of forms that need to be routinely filled out. Rather than filling out paper forms, source documents can be filled in on the screen of a Tablet PC and saved to a server via a wireless network. Unlike their paper counterparts, these electronic forms are easily searchable, do not fill up file cabinets, and do not involve killing trees.