Tablets In Business

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Making a Business Case for Tablets

By Chris Hazleton

The mobile tablet will cause a significant change in enterprise computing over the next decade. Current investments by IT in supporting smartphone operating systems have paved the way for companies to support and build new lines of business on mobile tablets. These devices will reshape how and where employees work, while at the same time increasing their ability to connect and share information with customers, colleagues and partners. That is the idea, but what is the business case for mobile tablets?

Current Usage
As a tool for the enterprise, the mobile tablet is initially being used as a companion device. These devices provide a powerful computing platform for workers on-the-go to access data locally and in the cloud. As they move beyond the companion role to more of a primary computing device, in doing so they will redefine the where and how of computing, and take significant share from desktop and laptops in the process.

Use of mobile tablets will be driven by new mobile applications and services that are becoming available and provisioned for the enterprise. These applications and services will serve as the basis for building new efficiencies for employees and new services for customers. 

Employees want to use tablets. Mobile tablets run operating systems that are familiar to employees, avoiding the support nightmare for IT when transitioning to new technology. Mobile tablets provide a streamlined computing experience compared to desktops and laptops. These devices provide ready access to computing resources that cannot easily be delivered by PCs and smartphones. Enterprises view the mobile tablet as a tool to improve the way they do business. Specifically, the key benefits they see are better responsiveness to customers, competition and co-workers.

Portable vs. Mobile Computing
Laptops offer portability to computing, allowing employees to be nearly anywhere and get to work, but access to power and a WLAN connection are required – a ball and chain to carry around and constantly worry about. At the other end of the spectrum is the smartphone, which is never far from its user and, in most cases, lasts a day or two on battery power while at all times connected to a WAN – receiving the most up-to-date information. These devices deliver true ‘mobile’ computing – not just portable computing, but consistent, always-on and always-with-you computing. 

Straddling these two worlds, the mobile tablet delivers the advanced capabilities and advantages of a smartphone, but with a larger screen format. While the ‘big smartphone’ label initially attached to tablets is somewhat deserved, a mobile tablet delivers the full promise of a mobile computing device. Mobile applications have historically been narrowly focused due to lack of real estate, but now mobile app developers can expand their reach into the enterprise with touch-driven apps that mirror or exceed the functionality of their desktop counterparts.

Drivers for Mobile Tablet Use in the Enterprise 
Mobile tablets present a new opportunity to empower employees to be more productive, more responsive and easier to support from an IT standpoint. There are benefits derived from the hardware form factor, as we’ve discussed, but the key drivers for mobile tablets will be mobile applications. These applications will be both horizontally and vertically focused tools. It will be the targeted and internally developed applications that will best deliver on the promise of the mobile tablet. 

The tablet provides ready access to computing resources that cannot easily be delivered by PCs and smartphones. Enterprises see the mobile tablet as a tool to improve the way they do businesses. Specifically, the key benefits are better responsiveness customers, competition and co-workers. Tablets give employees instant access to critical information, allowing them to move the ball forward from virtually anywhere. Tablets mean that processes are less likely to be interrupted by one or more employees who are temporarily out of touch. 

In the table below, we see the ranking of drivers for the use of mobile tablets by US companies in 451’s March 2011 Enterprise Mobility Survey. Here we see the mobilization of key business processes and customer responsiveness ranking highest. This points to mobile tablets used as tools for profit, and not cost control. Significant adoption of mobile phones and early smartphone applications was driven largely by asset and employee tracking. The mobile tablet ranks low in these areas – companies investing in mobile tablets are doing so to be more competitive and drive new business.

Source: 451 Research Mobile Enterprise Survey, March 2011, n: 514 (click to enlarge)

Also highly relevant here is employee satisfaction. In environments where employees need ready access to messaging and enterprise data, giving them a ‘cool looking’ and ‘fun to use’ device goes a long way toward keeping morale up (particularly important when they’re responding to a customer email at 9pm).

Even in the early days of mobile tablet adoption, a few enterprises are already looking to them to replace laptops and desktops. In its August 2011 survey, ChangeWave Research (a subsidiary of the 451 Group) found that 36% of companies are using mobile tablets as a laptop replacement. Where possible, employees are much more likely to carry a mobile tablet with them, versus a laptop, if given the choice.

Re-inventing Enterprise Computing 
There has been a strong movement from the desktop OS to mobile operating systems in the enterprise. While a mobile OS-powered smartphone can’t replace a laptop, a mobile tablet can and will support a significant portion of a worker’s daily tasks. The move from desktop to mobile will open the door wider for cloud services and new tech vendors that will displace incumbents. Local files and folders are giving way to the cloud, and the mouse is giving way to touch. In this new computing paradigm, mobile applications and services will transform how and where organizations do business. 

The current UI on laptops and desktops was designed over 40 years ago. It is time for a change. As the cost of developing mobile applications continues to drop, and interest in building mobile apps exceeds that of apps for the desktop, it is clear that the future of computing will focus on mobile. For this reason, the next giant leap forward in computing will take place on a mobile tablet, not on the desktop.

Limited Impact on IT 
The smartphone has opened the door to the enterprise for mobile tablets. Employees that have already used smartphones with an HLMOS, and IT staff that have been supporting these deployments, are allowing organizations to rapidly transition to mobile tablets. The support nightmare that IT fears in deploying mobile tablets won’t materialize, given the intuitive, easy-to-use nature of mobile tablets operating systems.

The traditional work day is a thing of the past. Today’s enterprise workers are increasingly working outside of normal business hours and outside the office. IT support for smartphones initiated the expansion of the work day, but it is the mobile tablet that will solidify it. The user’s voice in IT decision making is more powerful than it has ever been before – they want systems, applications and devices that fit their needs and allow employees to be competitive inside and outside an organization.   

This is a unique time in the enterprise as two technology trends, the cloud and mobile tablets, are intersecting to create a significant opportunity for change in enterprise computing. The tablet is the perfect window into cloud services, shifting computing from a single device to multiple, from local storage of content to the cloud and, eventually, native apps to greater use of Web apps. The cloud enables device-independent computing, accessing content from anywhere, which will drive users to the device of their choice – a choice that will increasingly be a mobile tablet.

Chris Hazelton is the Research Director for 451’s Mobile and Wireless practice, he is primarily interested in the shift in computing from desktop to mobile.

Tablets in Business 

Businesses are refocusing their mobile strategies and turning to tablets. But new devices present new challenges for IT and decision makers. Join TabletPCReview in exploring the world of enterprise tablets, with news and solutions-oriented analysis.

Finally, we want to hear from you. Are you using a tablet for work? If so, which tablet. What features do you want in a business tablet. Please take a minute to take our Tablets in Business survey, and we’ll report the results.

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