Tablets Offer Business Flexibility

By Bob Violino  |  Posted 2012-08-17
Tablet devices

By Bob Violino

A few years ago, tablets weren't even on the technology radar of many organizations. Today, they've become key IT assets that enable workers to access information, collaborate and conduct customer transactions from virtually anywhere. The rapid proliferation of these devices gives enterprise employees more flexibility and enables companies to provide better service to their customers.

The use of tablets in the workplace is on the rise. A survey by Aberdeen Group showed that 44 percent of the 573 organizations responding were using Apple iPads, 20 percent were using Android-based tablets and 6 percent were using Windows-based tablets.

Survey respondents projected an increase within the next 12 months of 23 percent for iPads, 22 percent for Android tablets and 21 percent for Windows tablets. This included both company-owned and employee-owned devices that have access to corporate networks and data, says Andrew Borg, research director for Enterprise Mobility and Communications and the Mobility Center of Excellence at Aberdeen.

Among the business drivers for tablet adoption is the larger screen size compared with smartphones, according to Borg. "You can have the presentation of more data at one swipe, and this leads to a richer data experience than one can get on a smartphone," he says. "It's also more suited for sharing of data and collaboration, making it more applicable to business processes."

The devices provide an easy way to quickly share information and collaborate from the road, compared with heavier, bulkier laptops. "There's also a vast variety of software applications, making tablets very adaptable to business tasks," Borg adds.

Adding to the flexibility of the devices is that they can be integrated with enterprise back-end data services. "Now you have a platform that can deliver core data assets out to the edge of the organization," he says.

In addition, tablet devices will generate more Web traffic than smartphones by early 2013 and will reach 10 percent of total traffic in 2014, according to research by Adobe Systems, which analyzed 23 billion visits to the Websites of 325 companies from North America, Western Europe and Asia.

In addition, consumers find browsing Websites on tablets nearly as engaging as browsing on PCs. The company's Adobe Digital Index report, released in May 2012, shows that the share of Website visits from tablets grew about 10 times faster than the rate for smartphones in the first two years after market introduction, and grew more than 300 percent in the last year.

"Although rapid growth in unit sales is part of the reason for fast growth [of tablets], the bigger factors are high Website engagement comparable to PCs, combined with the portability and mobility of the tablet form factor," Bankhead says Austin Bankhead, director of Adobe Digital Index.

Businesses should expect customers to increasingly use tablets to engage with brands—whether to conduct research, learn about products and services, make purchases or request customer support, he adds.

Speeding Up Throughput

Holly Hunt Enterprises, a Chicago provider of interior design services, uses iPads in its distribution center and prototyping facility, and is considering issuing tablets to its travelling sales staff, says Neil Goodrich, director of business analytics and technology.

"In the distribution center, the tablets are used to cut walk times by providing access to our ERP [enterprise resource management] and WMS [warehouse management system] on the spot instead of having to walk back to the terminal," Goodrich says.

They're also used to speed throughput in the inspection process by leveraging the camera on the devices to take videos and email them to the merchandising team. "This results in faster responses from the merchandising team, which allows the inspection team to move on to the next inspection faster," Goodrich says.

To help manage the tablets, Holly Hunt deployed an enterprise mobility device management (MDM) platform from BoxTone. The platform sets policies in devices and allows employees to register their own tablets and gain access to applications such as email.

Tablets "are now in people's minds as a potential solution for problems," Goodrich notes. "It's no longer just the IT team that's dreaming up how to use them; people are approaching us and saying, 'I think I can solve this problem by using a tablet.'"

In those circumstances, the company lets individual business units make the decision about whether to invest in tablets. Holly Hunt operates a corporate app store with applications that business units might want to deploy, and users are welcome to suggest new mobile applications that might help them do their jobs.

Easier Access to Information

Another company benefiting from tablet use is Schumacher, a Lafayette, La., provider of emergency room management services to hospitals. Schumacher has about 150 company-owned iPads, plus an additional 50 employee-owned devices. It began limited pilots of the original iPad when it was released, and broad distribution began with the iPad 2.

Employees use the tablets for email, Web browsing and other applications, says CIO Doug Menefee. "Many of the employees access our internal Web-based applications, primarily," he says.

One benefit is easier access to information. "We see a lot more real-time information showing up in our meetings," Menefee says. "Individuals are walking in with their devices and have the information easily accessible to make decisions."

Since deploying tablets, the company is seeing higher adoption rates of its CRM application. In addition, the tablets afford frequent travelers in the company "the ability to carry a smaller-footprint device to meetings and leave the heavy lifting of laptops for the hotel room," Menefee says.

Taking Tablets to School

Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., is also benefiting from tablets. The university's Undergraduate Admissions department began deploying iPads two years ago, and about half the department's counseling staff uses these devices.

Admissions counselors travel extensively throughout the country visiting with prospective students at college fairs, high schools, and various events, says Duey Heffelfinger, associate director of admissions operations. Tablets enable the counselors to have instant access to student information, presentations and other information available on the Internet. The counselors also use the devices to collect student requests for more information at college fairs and other face-to-face visits, he says.

Creighton students, with the support of a Web coordinator, recently developed a request-for-information app and server to electronically collect requests and directly import request data into an admissions database. This eliminates the need to enter data from the paper postcards previously used.

"Gathering the request electronically improves the data collection quality, and speeds up the process of responding to the student's request," Heffelfinger says.

Admissions counselors also perform territory management functions, such as monitoring goals and results for communications, application generation and other metrics using Tableau Software’s Tableau Server.

"Tableau on the iPad allows counselors to perform ad hoc analysis to make decisions about calls, visits and other marketing activities," Heffelfinger explains. "Detailed data about prospects is also available for download from the [application] to use for calling and other contacts."

In addition to admissions, the university has conducted pilot programs with the iPad in other areas, and several colleges within the university are distributing tablets to faculty.

Among the challenges companies face with tablets is ensuring that the devices are secure.

Based on research Aberdeen conducted in April 2012, security and compliance with tablets is lagging that of smartphones, Borg says. While 64 percent of organizations are providing device control such as remote data wiping or locking for lost or stolen smartphones, only 38 percent are providing that same capability for tablets.

"Two-thirds don't have [that basic level of security], and yet the likelihood that a tablet will have sensitive data on it is greater than with a bring-your-own-device smartphone," Borg points out. "IT must play catch up. With the rate of accelerated adoption, they need to make tablets secure and compliant."

Despite concerns about security, many companies consider tablets a significant component of their IT mobility strategies.