A company may introduce a new product with intentions for its use but it can easily morph into something else, on its own and unintended. Such is the case with tablets, which were meant for the consumer but are becoming increasingly popular in business, particularly for field sales force staff.
Tablets are supposed to be content consumption devices, and by and large have remained so, but there is also increasing use as document management devices in business, both for creation and consumption.
Tablets have entered the workforce the same way MacBooks and iPhones have displaced PC notebooks and BlackBerrys: people brought their favorite hardware to work, says Craig Le Clare, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research.
“One of the biggest concerns is tech populism, trying to keep control of the technology being brought into the workforce,” he said. “Field people, sales people, have been the first to use intelligent devices, so I’m not surprised at this movement at all. It’s been a grass roots push, so there’s no surprise at all it’s being adopted.”
At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2011 held in Australia in late November, Gartner Vice President David Willis talked about how business applications in commercial app stores were originally focused on inexpensive personal productivity tools, but now major software vendors are “taking the tablet seriously and embracing the market, following where users want to take the platform.”
Willis posited a Top 10 list of commercial business application categories for tablets, such as sales automation systems for customer collateral, sales presentations and ordering systems, Business Intelligence, and collaboration applications for meetings.
Mobile Document Management
“People mostly consume data but they also create content. There are different ways and scenarios that you create content. We’re not trying to bring full-fledged, full-featured Photoshop to the tablet, but Adobe has released editing software for tablets to edit and share, but it’s a slightly different scenario,” said Eran Aloni, director of product management at Adobe Systems.
One of Adobe’s enterprise solutions is EchoSign, a secure document exchange product for iOS that can be used to transmit a legal document to an iPad, obtain a person’s signature (using their finger in lieu of a pen) and all the while protecting the document. Documents can be legally signed with an eSignature immediately rather than sending the paper documents back and forth.
Another vendor in the business is WatchDox, which specializes in secure documents on the iPad. It creates a secure connection between the iPad and server, and the document can’t be dumped to a printer or screen grab, you can’t even take a picture of the iPad screen. The lighting of the app will obfuscate any attempts to photograph the image, according to Ryan Kalember, vice president of strategy and CMO for the company.
“Our mission is to make documents available on anywhere, and also make them secure and controlled on any device, anywhere. We do a lot of work to secure it on the back end to secure it. Users can’t copy files or forward them, but they can make adaptations for their own use or collaborate only with authorized parties,” he said.
Among the uses for WatchDox: Hollywood studios use it for sending out in production that are not finalized yet, while airlines use them to transfer flight plans safely and securely to the plane.
The challenge these companies look to address is that the iPad is still pretty new and has a lot of maturation to do before it’s a secure and viable product for protecting data at the end point.
“I think the bigger issue is not the security at the front end but integration with the back end systems,” said Le Clare. “To me that’s the bigger issue, that you’ve got to build an architecture to support mobility to support the context of whatever it s you are doing.”
Old CRM too Slow
He said the ERP and CRM vendors have been too slow to respond to this brave new world of tablets, given the slower movement in their traditional businesses. “The development process in the old world in ERP was typical waterfall, yearly releases. In the mobile world, it’s agile development, it’s weekly or quarterly updates. So [the old guard] is not keeping ahead with this racing consumer tech.”
Kalember agrees. “There was nothing there to work with. We had to build everything. Information security has gotten away from protecting the data itself. DRM and public key infrastructure were never good from a user experience perspective, so they said we’ll protect everything around the content.”
Aloni agrees the tablet is still in the early stages. “There are decades of infrastructure that was built for desktop or standard computing we are used to using. Tablets are still new. The landscape is not set. That’s what makes it a huge opportunity, because if you have the right concept and can innovate you can have a solution that is unique and get traction and set the pace for the market,” he said.
But he adds that tablets are not the same as PCs and the experience should be viewed differently. “You could take your desktop user experience and put it on a mobile device, but I think the experience people expect is different. So you have to rethink the way you interact with users. In some ways it’s kind of interesting because you are going back to basics,” he said.