The tablet revolution has been an interesting one in that
it’s turned the traditional evolution of technology upside down. For decades,
the latest and greatest technologies were first available to the largest
companies who could afford the significant price tags these new tools
demanded. With tablets, however, the industry-changing iPad was targeted
directly at consumers vs. previous business-centric devices. Smaller
businesses sit in between the Fortune 500 behemoths and consumers and are in
many ways well positioned to use tablets in their businesses. Here are a few
ideas on ways to employ these devices in your company, besides the obvious
content consumption and email tool.
A cheap terminal
Tablets have created an entirely new market for Point of
Sale (POS) software, and many small businesses and the consumers who frequent
them have encountered tablets and smartphones replacing the traditional cash
register. While POS applications are nothing new to many businesses, tablets
can be deployed for any application where a low-cost, connected, and
interactive device is appropriate. You can use a tablet to display timed
advertisements, local information, directories of services or people, or even
as a makeshift kiosk at a trade show. Most of these applications used to
require purpose-built hardware and software, but with a commodity or customized
mount and a web application to display content, you can deploy any terminal or
kiosk-based application you can imagine.
Tablets in the field
Once again, the combination of low cost, portability,
connectivity, and the ability to run applications that might be as simple as
a series of web-based forms makes tablets ideal for field service. If your
company has a significant field sales or service force, a low-end tablet could
replace a stack of service manuals with little more than a memory card loaded
with PDF files, or it could be connected to existing dispatch systems and offer
complex service management.
Many of the leading cloud-based CRM applications are now
offering tablet applications. If your small business already uses a tool like
Salesforce.com, a tablet and free download can equip salespeople with access to
your CRM tool without the cost and complexity of a laptop. Combine this with
the pre-installed email applications on most tablets, and you may be able to
get away with tablet-only reps in many cases.
Entering the app
If your company has a product or service that would benefit
from tablet-based access, tablet software development tools are beginning to
mature to the point that they’re within reach of even the smallest businesses.
Similarly, freelance and small development shops are broadly available to help
take a concept through to a fully executed tablet or smartphone application.
Before calling the nearest development shop, make sure you
consider a tablet application as you would any other new product release. How
will the application generate revenue? How will you support it? Does it complement
or cannibalize your existing products? If you follow the same process you would
to produce any new product, the actual coding portion of tablet development is
increasingly becoming a commodity that can be purchased on the open market.
While larger companies struggle with questions around
managing tablets and integrating them into complex IT infrastructures, smaller
companies can benefit from tablets that offer strong functionality at
relatively low cost, and often with less complex maintenance and management
than a PC. Like any technology purchase, consider a small pilot program and
take the time to develop a thorough use case that ensures tablets will solve a
business problem you’re facing, rather than add another disused technology that
requires costly care and feeding. With some creativity, tablets provide
opportunities to SMBs that didn’t exist before and allows them to exploit technology
in ways their larger brethren are still struggling to implement.