Tablet computing is coming to your business, if it’s not already there.
From the iPad to BlackBerry’s PlayBook and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, the number of devices is growing, as is their business potential.
Windows 8, to be released this year, has the potential to be a watershed moment for tablets in business, with Microsoft promising a more integrated experience, in addition to a new, touch-focused interface called Metro.
So what exactly do tablets have to offer?
For business, their biggest benefit is mobility. Anywhere/anytime computing has fast become an expectation, and tablets offer great scope to improve customer service and productivity.
When connected to 3G (and soon 4G) wireless networks, tablets offer everything from mobile email access to an increasing amount of CRM, ERP, sales and other functions.
Businesses such as Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and General Electric all have iPad projects of one kind or another, and the US retailer Sears has deployed 5,000 iPads to help track inventory and orders.
But it’s not only big business that can benefit. Indeed small- and mid-sized businesses are often in a better position to integrate tablets into their processes, taking advantage of lighter and more adaptable infrastructures.
What challenges will you face?
The problems that most businesses could face when adopting tablets are as follows:
Cloud computing and mobility have changed the security equation, and it’s vital that you consider the implications tablet computing will have for protecting your business data and that of your customers.
Consider where and how data will be accessed, and for how long it will reside on the tablet device (if at all).
If you have tablets in your business, one or more will eventually be lost or stolen. Authentication, encryption and remote-wipe capabilities should all be considerations. Different tablets have different possibilities. BlackBerry, for example, makes much of the PlayBook’s strict and secure approach to email, calendars and data (though there have been recent reports of exploits).
Businesses adopting tablets and smartphones are of course looking to do it in an effective way – not only in terms of installation and rollout, but also ongoing support.
Admittedly, some of the tools available in this regard are currently less than ideal. However, expect the demand for business tablets to produce a range of improved tools for managing and supporting mobile devices.
Email and messaging aside, the real power in tablets stems from the applications they can carry.
Exactly which will be most important to you will depend on your business, but most CRM and ERP systems are now delivered with web-based interfaces that are usable on tablet devices, and, more preferably, some also have native apps for the platform of your choice.
And while the view that tablets are primarily for content consumption rather than production is still firm in the minds of many, new innovations such as the delivery of Microsoft Office to tablets via the cloud, means that that balance is slowly changing.
Perhaps the most challenging area is custom applications – “mobilising” any unique or bespoke systems your business uses. These projects can be complex, so it’s important to keep an eye on ROI.
The capabilities and productivity of tablet computing is only getting better. Improved mobile networks, cloud services and hardware will make the light-weight, easily-transported tablet a device of choice for an increasing number of tasks.
In 2012, expect Windows 8 to introduce a raft of business-friendly features while also providing better integration with your existing systems.
What’s been your experience with tablet computing?
Dave Stevens is managing director of managed IT services business, Brennan IT.