Monday Adobe announced its “Creative Cloud”, basically the core Adobe design and layout products packaged as SaaS. One of the key parts of this announcement is a client front-end specifically for iOS and Android tablets. A few weeks ago an SMB accounting SaaS company named Kashoo also announced a front-end designed to run on iOS and Android tablets.
So why should CIOs care about these announcements? Tablets, while great consumer toys, are really “computing light”. They have simplistic application-loader operating systems and run a lot of games and useful consumer apps, but they cannot approach the capabilities of the average Macintosh or Windows laptop. Even common consumer applications such as Quicken and Microsoft Money do not run on them. And while they seem to be cutting into low-end consumer laptop sales, they really do not replace the functionality of a 10-year-old windows XP desktop, much less a modern business laptop.
What they really are are devices for consuming Cloud-based services. But until recently they could only be used with services that can be accessed via a generic web browser. That is very limiting since many of those services require customized clients to access most of their features. And the notable lack of those clients has seriously limited the usefulness of those tablets in business even as the optimists predict that tablets will become the next generation of user devices.
The announcements from Kashoo and particularly Adobe, however, signal a turning point in tablet and cloud use. These front-ends support the full functionality of their respective services. Designers can actually put a magazine together completely on a tablet, working on large files including video, if they wish. Of course all the files will reside on Adobe's cloud servers and all the actual computation will be done there, not on the designer's iPad. And that will introduce all the little delays and other frustrations caused by network speed bumps, so most of the time those creators will still prefer to do the heavy lifting on their workstations where everything is local. But it is easy to visualize design team in a meeting room, each member with a large tablet collaborating on initial designs or at the end of the process putting finishing touches on a new product design. And it makes an excellent tool for presenting that design to the boss or to a client and incorporating their changes on the spot.
So again, why should a CIO care? The reason is simple. What Adobe can do, other SaaS and, for that matter, traditional on-premise software vendors can as well. So instead of a product design team, think about your senior management meeting to discuss the latest financial results, each with a tablet displaying the numbers directly from your company financials or perhaps your ERP system. Or your CEO meeting with your SVP of sales, each with a tablet showing a “window” into the month's sales summary directly from the CRM system, with the ability to drill down to discuss the performance of specific sales people or teams or the situation with specific important clients.
Action Item: The recent announcements show that iOS and Android tablets can run client front-ends to business software. It is time for CIOs to start asking their software vendors and any SaaS services they are considering when they are going to start supporting tablets with meaningful functionality. They aren't just for games any more.