How to avoid the biggest mistakes when deploying iPads

Erik Eckel points explains how you can avoid the most common mistakes of iPad deployments in your organization.

Consumer Reports settled any disputes this week when it named Apple's new iPad the best tablet computer. The iPad is popular, people are buying them, and they are increasingly being used within small businesses, mid-sized organizations, and large enterprises.

However, that doesn't mean tablet deployments are working perfectly. In fact, organizations are repeatedly making some of the same mistakes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

WSJ's top five mistakes

The Wall Street Journal notes that several errors are common to organizations deploying tablet computers. Firms fail to develop effective plans before deployment. Some fail to understand the roles tablets fulfill well. Others believe required applications will prove readily available. Many miscalculate the cost of tablets versus laptops. Some misjudge the ease with which tablets can be supported and secured.

These mistakes are easily avoided. Organizations need only perform a little homework before placing orders and deploying new iPads or tablets.

Have a plan

Companies need to have a plan for tablets. Will only executives receive tablets, or do sales personnel receive them, too? Will the tablets replace laptops in the field, or are tablets going to prove complementary to traditional notebooks? Will the IT department support the tablets or are users on their own? Ultimately, what's the tablet's purpose: increase revenue, reduce costs, or enable more efficient production?

Know how tablets will be used

Companies need to review how new tablet computers are going to be used. Is their purpose to provide remote connectivity? Will they be used by field technicians? Are they merely going to provide email and Internet support to mobile staff? Before tablets are purchased, organizations should know how users will be using the devices, what tasks the tablets will be used to fulfill, and how the tablets are going to add efficiencies and generate revenue.

Know the applications you'll use

Don't assume the apps users require are readily available. Don't assume users can just load an RDP client and connect to desktops or terminal servers remotely. Tablet displays may prove too small for terminal services navigation or use. Form a testing team, if even briefly, and purchase a few units to test in the field. Confirm apps are available and programs work as required and enable staff to perform the tasks the tablets are intended to fulfill. The time to realize tablets don't fit the bill is during proof-of-concept testing, not after you've purchased dozens or even hundreds.

Understand the costs

Sure, firms can purchase entry-level iPad 2s for $399 or iPad 3s for $499. Models with additional storage and network connectivity, however, cost more. 64GB Wi-Fi and 4G-enabled models push $830. And when mobile staff must have cellular data service, recurring monthly costs must be factored in. Over the course of a one- or two-year lifecycle, tablet expenses can easily exceed the costs for business-class laptop computers. Thus, companies must ensure they budget properly and include recurring monthly cellular data costs when budgeting tablet deployments.

Know how to support, secure tablets

Prepare the help desk to support iPads and tablets. Ticket queues will clog, technicians will become frustrated, and end users will lose patience if you don't. Ensure help desk staff members have the documentation for common issues (how to configure Exchange accounts, how to troubleshoot Internet connectivity, how the organization intends staff to purchase and install applications, how to connect to the corporate network via an official VPN, which users qualify for remote access, etc.) and how machines will be remotely wiped should they become lost or stolen. Also determine your security requirements in advance and how they should be met; for example, will users be required to leave sensitive information on the corporate network, thereby leaving the tablets more secure. Establish other security procedures such as passcodes that must be entered for access.