Here’s How Corporate IT Can Adjust to Tablet Computers

Tablet computers are disruptive and are invading every company. It started with the Apple iPad and has blossomed into many choices. Every major vendor has announced at least one tablet device including Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Motorola, RIM, Samsung and Toshiba.

Those tablets offer a variety of operating systems including Android, iOS, QNX, WebOS (or not) and Windows. IT departments must adjust to the idea of managing and supporting a variety of end-user mobile devices. It will no longer be a Microsoft-dominated IT world. Tablets are a game changer.

Enterprise IT needs to find ways to co-exist with consumer tablets and their short life cycles. That means giving up some control to the end users and the vendors. It sounds foreboding but is not, because vendors are eager to work with businesses and sell more tablets.

Banning tablets is not an option. Neither is imposing so many restrictions that they are all but unusable.

Several factors are driving this transition.

Apple has long been viewed as a consumer electronics company. They position themselves as consumer-friendly and attract buyers of all ages. Once someone acquires an Apple device for personal use, they often want to use it at work.

Consumers have become more technology savvy. They are buying many types of electronic gadgets and loading up on intelligent home appliances and tools. In the process, they are becoming more dependent on technology than ever before and see the value in it.

Finally, the pace of innovation is accelerating. Historically, it’s taken enterprise IT departments many months to review, approve and deploy new equipment. At today’s hypersonic innovation pace, the equipment could be nearing or past its end of life before it’s deployed.

Here is a short list of items to consider.

Usage Policies. Define acceptable and unacceptable tablet usage. Define and enforce good security practices for tablets, including strong passwords and device certificates.

Remote Erasure. Software is available that can remotely erase the contents of tablet devices if they are lost or stolen. Find the right software for the devices you want to support and make sure your users understand that any personal information saved on the device will also be erased.

Encryption. Tools exist to encrypt tablet data making it almost impossible to decipher. It is a good idea to encrypt any information that leaves the enterprise infrastructure whether stored on a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

Cloud Storage. If you feel uncomfortable storing any enterprise data on a mobile device, you may want to save all data to a network server using a cloud-based service or your own systems. This will force users to have a network connection, either Wi-Fi or 3G, in order to access corporate information.

App Delivery. If your firm develops its own tablet applications, you will need a mechanism for delivering the software similar to Apple’s App Store. For the iPad, this can be done wirelessly without using a PC or iTunes. Other vendors offer similar solutions.

App Availability. You may be tempted to restrict the third-party apps users can load onto their tablets. However, you will likely see productivity advantages to letting users load whatever they want. Tablets are a new world that users need to explore and experiment within to get maximum value.

Support. This leads to the question of how much support you want to provide. Will employees be allowed to use their own tablets at work or must the tablets be company provided? Will corporate email, calendar and messaging features be supported? Are the devices for general-purpose use or for specialized apps only?

The more open the platform, the more likely it will be that employees will use the devices heavily and get maximum value from them. There are many productivity advantages to be had but it will take some creativity and experimentation to draw them out. Be open minded.

Consider allowing employees to load some personal apps on the tablet and store some personal data. You may find that if tablets are used for personal information, employees are more likely to take good care of them. Loss, theft and damage will occur but can be minimized.

Launch a pilot program.

Before making final decisions, start with a pilot program. Include a mix of user segments such as executives, managers, sales, support, technical and administrative personnel. You will need to get feedback from all types of user groups in order to determine the best approach for a full-scale rollout.

Tablets offer the promise of major advances in productivity for some users. You owe it to yourself and your company to find out who those users are and help them succeed.

Updated: August 22, 2011 — 9:12 pm