Apple's iPad: Great for business or just for Angry Birds? CIOs offer their take

It's seen as a status symbol by some execs but others take a more serious view...

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...

By Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.