This article first appeared September 1, 2011.
The iPad has completely changed the personal computing world. But alongside the hundreds of thousands of apps offered in Apple's flagship market, Australian SMEs are now designing their own ways of integrating the iPad into the workplace.
Property valuation tools, ordering and inventory facilities and superannuation calculators are just some of the methods Australian businesses are using for the iPad in their business.
Over the past few years there has been a growing concern among experts that businesses aren't doing enough due diligence on technology integration. ANZ has even banned iPads from board meetings over fears that notes taken aren't legally protected.
But despite those concerns, businesses are finding they are able to integrate iPads with custom technology and use them to enhance productivity.
Here are 10 businesses that are using the iPad in interesting and innovative ways:
Valuing homes isn't easy. There are a ton of factors to consider including location, the number of facilities in the house itself, the number of bedrooms, appliances and of course, square footage.
But an app from RP Data made specifically for its agents allows employees to value homes based on a number of different factors including location and number of rooms. It combines RP Data's statistics and puts them into an easy to view format, so agents can share that information with clients.
Agents can create profiles and track their recent sales, and can also view the properties they have on the market right now, with photos as well. They can also track information for their local suburb and present that to a client, so they have a realistic expectation for a selling price – they can also email a report to the seller from the app itself.
RP Data executive general manager David Williams says the motivation behind the app was to give agents a platform where they could more easily communicate to vendors.
"When you look at most real estate agents, they're working in the field. It was a natural progression for use to move into this space, and we've also moved to a personal login system as well."
"We're able to offer a more mobile product to a greater and ever expanding audience."
Angel Aromatics had a problem. It was unable to present enough of its products – fragrant homewares including candles, wax melts, and oils – into trade shows due to space restrictions. This meant customers weren't able to see all of its range and as a result, sales were impacted.
But office manager Lana Vidler decided that if an iPad app could be custom built showing off the company's entire product range, space wouldn't even be a factor anymore.
"Space is a premium there, so we wanted to have the iPad to display pictures, along with trying to move everything onto the cloud in general," she says.
"It was a total learning curve. I had an iPhone at the time, so I thought it could be doable. We just went out looking to put it all together and get an application together. It took a lot of hours, but all the retailers and customers loved it."
Vidler says the app showed off different product ranges, colours, sizes, and even allowed clients to make orders from that app while they were there.
"We were also able to say to people, "we have this in stock" or "we don't have that stock", and if we didn't have what they wanted we would just offer them alternatives right then and there. That leads to a bunch of sales. It's much better than just calling them a few weeks later and offering them an alternative, because they may not want it."
Superannuation fund QSuper has now replaced all paper documents for board meetings with iPads, similar to a move made by ANZ last month.
The move, which occurred earlier this month, will see the company implement IQ's Trustee Office Solution, providing each board member with a "board pack".
The system means board members' documents will be kept behind authentication and encryption protocols, with a number of features including remote control and other security redundancies. The software is also able to be accessed along with SharePoint.
Switching to iPads has also had another benefit – reducing the necessary binders and paper usually delivered for board meetings, freeing up staff to focus on other matters.
Chief officer systems and change, Baden Sharples, said in a statement that the solution comes as the "ever increasing volume of work" continues to demand attention.
"The elegance of this implementation is that it provides immediate remote and mobile iPad access to not only the necessary board pack materials, but can connect board members with broader fund information should they need it."
Users can also share documents safely with other board members, and access tasks, calendar updates and sub-committee documents.
Great Southern Touring Route
Australian domestic tourism is in trouble. A high exchange rate and sluggish domestic spending means fewer tourists and fewer dollars spent in the industry.
But the Great Southern Touring Route decided that if it could build an app showcasing the best of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to clients overseas, it might convince them to make the journey.
Daniel Kagan, director of Lookout Mobile which created the app, says while it is available in the App Store it was really designed as a custom app so the touring route could show off the state.
"We took all this video content like iPad apps, images, restaurant reviews and so on, and put it all together. Then they put it on iPads to show industries, travel agencies, tourism bodies, and so on. That was specifically designed for a sales perspective."
"It's all curated and designed for them to go and show others to get excited about this particular touring route."
Acorn Rentals wanted to expand its car hiring business interstate, but found that dealing with all the paper, faxes and manual labour was too difficult a process.
Business development manager Michael Costin said the company needed to introduce something that would enable the company to interact with its existing file systems and cut back on admin time. It stumbled across FileMaker Go – a publically available app on the App Store. It then created a custom skin, added a few features, and then used that app for its own salesmen on the road.
"More or less, it's a direct copy of the app. We just had to set up a couple of different layouts, and come up with a workaround so we can copy signatures. It didn't originally come with that feature."
"When we are out doing a rental, we do the whole thing with them on the iPad, give them all the details of the car and do a damage report. Then we get them to sign, and all that information is sent via email or post."
Costin says the biggest benefit has been a reduction in the amount of admin work required.
"Our drivers don't have to do all that work now, now it's just put it all into the system, and they can stay on the road without having to come back to the office and file."
The Jim's Group range of franchises extends from lawn mowing to even bookkeeping, so it's little wonder the group has managed to pull together an iPad app for its Jim's Antennae's franchisees.
The app, which is available on the App Store but is primarily designed for the group's franchisees, allows its users to organise their accounts and current jobs, access a calendar and figure out where their next job is located.
The app also shows what is required at the next job location, along with any additional comments needed. It also allows franchisees to create an invoice, grab a customer's signature and then send that invoice on through email.
This is how an iPad app should work on the road. It reduces paperwork, and shows that even SMEs are able to reduce administrative burdens with tech.
Earlier this year building products manufacturing group Brickworks gave about 50 iPads to its internal sales team. But rather than build its own custom app, they've been able to use apps such as Citrix and Salesforce to enable access to the company's own database.
The business has also stated that it won't dictate which apps employees get to use. They simply download what they need to do their work.
Like Acorn Rentals, Brickworks has introduced tablets in order to cut down on the administrative burden of paperwork and to access core systems, without even having to build a custom app to do so. It's an encouragement for other businesses to see if their core IT systems can integrate with existing apps.
The common thread between businesses that introduce iPhone and iPad apps for their staff is an emphasis on field management. Businesses want their employees to be able to do as much as possible while on the ground, and software firm Aconex is no different.
The Aconex app allows users to log in to their accounts, and access all the various pieces of data including documents and pictures associated with their various projects. They can also capture video, pictures and audio to send to other users.
While the app is currently only available for mobiles, Aconex has said it is working to bring the same functionality to the iPad.
They can also access their email, access overdue and outstanding tasks and project directories as well. One of the better features it the ability to create mail while users are offline, along with the creation of documents as well.
One of the first Australian businesses to announce plans to run a dedicated software system on the iPad, Jetstar is perhaps the largest organisation to tailor the iPad to their own needs.
Presentations on the system have revealed Jetstar is planning to introduce a modified iPad with a larger battery in place of in-flight entertainment systems. Screenshots show Jetstar has introduced a type of software with individual apps for categories such as games, television and films.
The idea for creating a personal entertainment system is essentially what the iPad is all about. The hiring system also emulates the approach taken by a number of restaurants, which had iPads out to customers in place of menus.
There is currently no planned date to introduce the new JetStar iPad renting system, but if early reports are any indication, the system is likely to be a hit.
The tablet device is perfect for inventory management, and that's exactly what automotive accessories supplier Haigh Australia has used the iPad for. The 40-year old company has created an iPad app that allows sales staff to view stock information, availability, and a whole lot more as well.
The company uses the Markinson's enterprise mobility solution, and allows sales staff to view accurate and real-time information on stock.
"The biggest benefit that they can see is that they have all the information there," assistant manager Wendy La Macchia told The Australian recently.
"They can see what the customer has bought, they can see what their price is and they can see what their account status is, and use a sales diary to write notes."
The app also allows sales staff to carry around catalogues, brochures and price lists.