by Mitch Cline of Accenture
To take full advantage of what tablet PCs can offer in competitive advantage and delivering the highest possible ROI, it is vital that enterprises act now to address the opportunities and challenges ahead.
According to investment bank Morgan Stanley, tablet computers are poised to become the fastest growing category of mobile device in history. And adoption by corporate organizations may be faster and more widespread than expected.
The bank’s report, Tablet Demand and Disruption: Mobile Users Coming of Age , notes that two-thirds of 50 CIOs surveyed earlier this year expect, within the year, to either purchase tablets for some of their employees or allow employees who owned tablets onto their networks.
This is because tablets enable instant access to thousands of Web-enabled applications. They are already demonstrating advantages in portability, convenience, ease of use and connectedness. They’re less intrusive than laptop PCs for retrieving information during a meeting and offer a superior reading and email experience compared to smartphones.
In the retail industry, sales assistants are finding tablet PCs easy to use tools with real time updated catalogues, allowing for customization and on-the-spot ordering. Fitted with a card reader, the tablet can also serve as a mobile point of sale terminal. The ease with which a tablet can be cleaned, for example, makes it an ideal tool for healthcare professionals to carry around hospital wards and surgical environments where high standards of sterilization are critical.
All in all, tablets are also proving to be the right tool for the job, whether on a construction site, in an operating room, at an oil refinery, or in an insurance company.
To integrate tablets successfully, enterprise decision makers need to take a careful look at the new hardware, software and support capabilities required. Issues to consider include ease of deployment, managing backup and data access, support, security, network complexity, device management, operating system diversity, TCO and integration of various tablet platforms at the application, mobile device management process, and system level.
To achieve this synergy, three key organizational challenges must be overcome.
No. 1: Applications – To maximize the value of tablets, organizations need to make key business applications widely available to the workforce. The benefits are clear: Tablets offer an engaging, user friendly and productive experience that improves mobility investment returns.
There are a number of ways to achieve this, including client applications, multi-platform middleware, HTML 5, software as a service (SaaS), cloud-based solutions, and through a virtualized/remote desktop. Each of these routes needs to be assessed for cost, speed, business benefit and practicality, including whether development is best in-house or through business partnerships.
The approach for an enterprise application store needs careful consideration, as well. The number and type of mobile platforms being supported is a key factor. Solutions may be created via customized internal development or a hosted, outsourced model. Companies are also beginning to explore use of a central hub within the enterprise to deploy, support, track and manage distribution to employees.
No. 2: Security
Enterprises will typically have more stringent security requirements than consumer devices support. These need to be considered on the device, within virtual private network applications, and for cloud-based applications.
Today’s tablets lack USB ports and DVD drives. This makes one element of security easier to manage than using conventional laptops that have both USB and DVD drives. But the portability and attractiveness of tablets make them obvious targets for theft.
Robust encryption and password enforcement are critical to ensure data security and tracking. Remote wipe will be vital to ensure that lost or stolen devices do not lead to major confidentiality breaches or disclosure of sensitive information.
No. 3: Device and data management
Updating devices needs to be carefully managed. IT departments must set clear policies about the extent to which individual tablet users can customize their devices, and their permissible application sources and updates.
Introducing a user’s own tablets onto the enterprise network, known as bring your own device (BYOD), compounds the challenge because it creates a complex environment of diverse devices, operating systems and platforms.
Tablet adoption also increases complexity in the processes required to manage data source synchronization between multiple devices. While many users are accustomed to managing a laptop and mobile phone, adding a third device accelerates the opportunity for cloud-based solutions to ensure data consistency.
The complexities and challenges of a rapidly developing market for tablets in the enterprise are just beginning and the rules of the game are changing fast. A new mobile ecosystem is emerging that will drive new business models, new channels to market and new collaborations. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), wireless operators, software vendors and cloud providers each have a key role to play in helping enterprises understand and benefit from this new technology.
The competition is going to be intense. The winners will be those players who can leverage the game-changing efficiency and effectiveness that tablets promise, making a clear path to cost reduction, performance improvements and increased customer satisfaction.
Mitch Cline is the global managing director of Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech practice. He can be reached at [email protected].