Tablets Go Corporate

By Jennifer Lawinski  |  Posted 2011-10-03

Clinicians at Children’s Hospital Central California, one of the 10 largest pediatric hospitals in the country, are using Apple iPads to access and share information about patients, no matter where they are in the 340-bed facility. The hospital has 450 physicians on staff, manages about 1,800 desktop computers and has more than 3,000 users on its network.

During the summer, the Madera-based hospital launched advanced clinical systems that users will be able to access on iPads using VMware View. This will enable “follow me” desktops that can move from room to room with staffers.

Welcome to the future of business technology: the tablet era. If your company isn’t making plans to deploy, support and profit from the latest generation of mobile devices, you risk being left behind by competitors and bypassed by talented workers.

“With the recent go-live of our electronic advanced clinical system, we now have some clinicians using iPads,” says hospital Vice President and CIO Kirk Larson. “Our users frequently comment on the iPad’s portability and ease of use.

“They can easily carry the device with them and avoid the hassles of carrying a heavier laptop or searching for an available desktop computer. A clinician with an iPad in hand can quickly and easily access a patient’s record from anywhere in the hospital, thereby enhancing his or her ability to deliver patient care.”

The decision to choose an iPad over a notebook computer was based on ease of use. “The end-user device selection strategy was a very important one, and some folks identified the iPad as their device of choice,” Larson said in a YouTube video about the deployment.

“It’s light, easy to use, easy to carry and it’s quite a bit quicker than having to find a desktop computer. It’s something you can whip out of a lab coat pocket and be logged in within seconds,” according to Larson.

Children’s Hospital is not alone. Market researcher Gartner predicts that nearly 55 million tablets will be sold this year, a jump of more than 180 percent over last year. And many of those tablets will wind up at work.

The iPad leads the way, but the launch of several competing devices will add momentum. The market is being flooded with competition from all sides. Tablets on the market now include Motorola’s Xoom, Dell’s Streak, RIM’s PlayBook, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Cisco’s Cius, Acer’s Iconia and Apple’s iPad 2.

As more users bring more tablets—and a mix of iOS, Android and Windows-based systems—to work, the effect on business and the IT organization will be profound.

Whether integrating employees’ personal tablets into workplace systems or purchasing and deploying tablets for business use, IT departments will face the challenging task of securing these devices and the information they contain.

“The thing that’s important to keep in mind is how these devices are getting into the enterprise,” says Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering, who covers mobile computing. “In many cases, the original entry is through the user who bought one for personal use and asks IT to support it. We’re seeing huge demand from the users, and also from C-level execs who are mandating that these come in.”

“Individuals are willing to buy these devices themselves, so enterprises must be ready to support them,” adds Gartner analyst Stephen Prentice. “While some IT departments will say they are a ‘Windows shop’—and Apple does not support the enterprise—organizations need to recognize that there are soft benefits to this type of device in the quest to improve recruitment and retention.”

To that end, help is on the way: VMware View Client for iPad allows iPad users to access virtual Windows-based desktops on their tablets. Citrix Systems and many others have similar applications on the market, helping to overcome the Windows-centric nature of many corporate IT environments.

Security Issues

One primary concern with tablets is security. “This means a total re-evaluation of how remote access is provided,” says Gartner’s Fiering. “The first thing you need to do is examine the network and make sure it is truly secure, robust and scalable. You need to assume that you have an endpoint that isn’t very secure, so you have to put more responsibility on network access controls.”

Fiering says IT will have to decide how to tier access to the network: They will have to choose which devices will be fully locked-down company machines with access to everything, and which tablets will be restricted. “We recommend that users get limited access, so they can tap only into the Exchange server to get mail or certain Web-based apps,” she explains. Endpoint security can no longer be assumed, so critical data shouldn’t be stored on endpoints, she adds.

“There are a number of ways to do this: with secure access clients like Citrix Receiver or Wyse PocketCloud ... Web-based apps,” Fiering says. “You can do something called ‘sandboxing,’ wherein the application runs in a very isolated environment on the tablet. You need to decide what data is most critical.”

Different types of systems have different vulnerabilities. “Apple has done a tremendous job at setting the benchmark that everybody else has to meet,” according to Fiering. Apple’s apps are vetted by the manufacturer, but because they’re locked down by Apple, iPads don’t give enterprises much flexibility. Android tablets, on the other hand, may suffer in the future from a lack of standardization, she says.

“Android is interesting because, being open source, it leads to innovation and a lot of really interesting new technology from developers,” she says. “However, being open source also means that you get fragmentation. Everybody wants to do things a little bit differently to differentiate.”

Enterprises that choose the Android path need to ensure that their suppliers validate applications and provide adequate support. “It’s important to make sure the supplier understands how to do the validation and is very consistent, and, if there is fragmentation, that the supplier’s platform will maintain consistency,” says Fiering.

As the tablet market expands in the next few years, there’s no telling which vendor will wind up on top. Some applications will require users to take notes on an image or collect signatures—tasks for which users would need a pen or stylus. Some tablets will have restricted viewing angles or be diffi-cult to use in bright sunlight, like Apple’s iPad and iPad 2.

In addition, many tablets might need to be recharged during a typical shift for workers in the field who are using power-intensive applications. Apple’s iPad 2 battery can last for up to 10 hours, the company says, while Asus says its Eee Pad Transformer tablet will last 16 hours—but only when plugged into a keyboard dock.

However, with more pros than cons—including instant-on functionality, easy-to-use interfaces, the variety of applications and portability—tablets will surely find their place in the enterprise.

“Notebooks are kludgy,” Fiering says. “You’re still dealing with the heavy, complex Windows interface. [Tablets] are lighter and easier to use, and the instant-on is huge.”

When it comes to vendors, Fiering says each has its strengths and weaknesses. With Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, running on Google’s Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” operating system, good design is a major asset. “But what do they know about software … enterprise security?” she asks.

The Cisco Cius is a unified communications device with a tablet interface, so it’s more limited than other Androids or iOS tablets. And while Cisco understands enterprise security, it hasn’t shown itself to have a stronghold in the apps market, Fiering says.

Motorola’s Xoom is “a pretty cool device,” she says, “but let’s look at who’s delivering this. This is not the enterprise solutions folks. This is the handsets group—the consumer group.”

Regardless of the vendors in the marketplace, it will be a question of when, not if, your enterprise jumps on the tablet bandwagon. “They’re out there and they’re pretty darned prevalent,” Fiering says. “The real question for us is, which companies can keep them out?”

Certainly not Children’s Hospital Central California—they’ve already been sold.

See our slideshow, “Tablets for Business”.