iPad Goes Corporate

By Jennifer Lawinski  |  Posted 2011-04-06

See also our slideshow, Choosing the right tablet computer

Children's Hospital of Central California, one of the ten largest pediatric hospitals in the country, is letting clinicians use iPads to access and share patient information across in the 340-bed facility. The hospital has 450 physicians on staff and manages about 1,800 desktop computers and more than 3,000 users on its network.

This summer the hospital is launching new advanced clinical systems that users will be able to access on iPads using VMWare View to provide “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 shunned by talented workers.

“Dieticians want to be able to use the new iPad because currently they’re carrying two binders worth of information with them and they want to be able to take that iPad and go to the patient’s bedside,” says Robert Schellenger, a network engineer with the Children’s Hospital, in a YouTube video about the deployment.

Hospital vice president and CIO Kirk Larson says the decision to choose an iPad over a notebook computer had to do with ease of use.

“The end user device selection strategy was a very important one, and probably not surprisingly we have had some folks who have identified the iPad as their device of choice. It’s a device that is light, easy to use, easy to carry, and it’s something that is quite a bit quicker than having to find a desktop or carry a more cumbersome laptop. It’s something you can literally whip out of a lab coat pocket and be logged in within seconds,” Larson says.

Gartner predicts that nearly 55 million tablets will be sold in 2011 – a jump of more than 180 percent over 2010. And many of those tablets will wind up at work.

iPad leads the way. “It’s relatively standard to see somewhere between six and ten [people] -- in a ten-person meeting -- with iPads,” Chris Young, VP and GM of End User Computing for virtualization software maker VMWare, said in an interview with blogger Robert Scoble. “It’s really made it into the mainstream. Certainly in the technology industry and even as I go around to different customers who span many industries from financial services to manufacturing, you name it.”

And the launch of several competing devices will only add to the momentum. The market is being flooded with competition, from Motorola’s Xoom to Dell’s Streak, RIM’s Playbook and Cisco’s Cius. As more users bring more tablets – and a mix of iOS, Android and Windows-based systems -- the effect on business and IT will be profound.

Top-Down Decisions

Whether integrating employee’s personal tablets into workplace systems, or purchasing and deploying tablets for business uses, keeping the devices and the information they contain safe and secure will be a challenge for IT.

One obstacle for many organizations is a lack of experience in supporting Apple products. But there’s no ignoring the hugely popular iPad, especially when the boss is pushing the brand. “It is not usually the role of the CEO to get directly involved in specific technology device decisions, but Apple's iPad is an exception,” said Stephen Prentice, Gartner Fellow and vice president, in a statement last November.

Gartner vice president Leslie Fiering, who covers mobile computing, sees the same dynamic at work. “The thing that is important to keep in mind is how these things are getting into the enterprise. In many cases the original entry is through the user who bought one for personal use and asks IT to support it,” he says. “What we’re seeing is not only huge demand from the users, but we’re also seeing C-Level execs that are mandating that these come in.”

“Individuals are willing to buy these devices themselves, so enterprises must be ready to support them,” Prentice said.  “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 in a device of this type in the quest to improve recruitment and retention. Technology is not always about productivity.”

Help is on the way: VMWare has launched an app that allows iPad users to access virtual Windows-based desktops on their tablets. Citrix and many others have similar apps on the market, helping overcome the Windows-centric nature of many of today’s corporate IT environments.

Security Issues

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

She says IT will have to decide how to tier access to the network and decide which devices will be fully locked-down company machines with access to everything and which will be restricted. “What we are recommending is that users get limited access, so they only get to the Exchange server to get mail or they only get to certain web-based apps. These are decisions that you can make.”

Endpoint security can no longer be assumed, so critical data shouldn’t be stored on endpoints, she says. “There are a number of ways you can do this – secure access clients like Citrix Receiver or Wise pocket cloud… web-based apps. You can do something called Sandboxing where the application runs in a very isolated environment on the tablet … You need to decide what’s the data that’s 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, Fiering says. Because it’s locked down by Apple, iPads don’t give enterprises much flexibility, but Apple’s apps are vetted by the manufacturer. Android tablets, on the other hand, may suffer in the future from a lack of standardization.

“Android is interesting because being open source, it’s a great thing because 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 need to look at their suppliers, if they choose the Android path, and make sure that their vendors offer adequate support and validate applications.

Which Tablet to Buy 

Don't miss our slideshow on choosing the right tablet.

As the tablet market expands in the next few years, there’s no telling who will wind up on top.

“I think that in a year and a half to two years, it could be anybody,” says Paul Moore, Senior Director of Mobile Product Development at Fujitsu America. “It could be the Motorola Xoom. It could be Samsung. It could be Windows-based. It could be Android-based… it could be any one of those, but if you look at the environments today – what are most enterprises running on? The answer is Windows.

“Based on what I’ve heard from our customers, there is a preference to stay with Windows for the time being because they believe it is an easier deployment, because you have the security, the usability, the standard deployment,” Moore says. “The average enterprise has to worry about compatibility with Citrix. They have to worry about enterprise security and pushing drivers and so on and so forth.”

And more pedestrian complications could arise.

Some applications will require users to take notes on an image or to collect signatures, things users would need a pen or stylus to do, he says. Some tablets will have restricted viewing angles or be difficult to use in bright sunlight. Tablets also do not incorporate biometrics security and many need to be recharged and may not last as long as a typical shift for workers in the field.

“If they have the screen cranked up all the way, brightness-wise, and they have the wireless turned on but the signal is weak… it’s going to drain the battery,” he says. “If I have an eight hour shift and get battery drained at six and a half… what am I going to do?”

But the many pros, including instant-on functionality, easy-to-use interfaces, the variety of applications and portability, mean tablets will find their place.

“Notebooks are cludgy. You’re still dealing with the heavy, complex windows interface. These things are lighter, easier to use and the instant on is huge,” Fiering says. “They’re not notebook replacements. They are something else.”

When it comes to particular vendors, Fiering says each have their strengths and weaknesses.

For Samsung, which launched the Galaxy Tab running on Google’s Android 2.2 operating system last fall, good design is ones of its assets. “But what do they know about software? What do they know about enterprise security?” she asks.

The Cisco Cius a unified communications device with a tablet interface, so it’s more limited than other Androids or an iOS tablet. And while Cisco understands enterprise security, it hasn’t shown itself to be a master of tablet marketing or to have a stronghold in the apps market, she says. “If you’re looking to deploy tablets as a major marketing push, are you going to get the support from Cisco to meet your needs? Maybe.”

HP is a strong market contender with its TouchPad WebOS tablets and the company’s ability to handle enterprise security.

Motorola’s Xoom is “a pretty cool device,” Fiering 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.” The company split its enterprise and consumer divisions at the beginning of this year.