Tablets started appearing in offices almost as soon as the original iPad went on sale. So far, however, they have mostly been treated as curiosities, brought in by individuals and used mostly as personal rather than business devices. However, as they proliferate they are impacting how we live our lives, from empowering the transition off paper in the publishing industry to changing how we consume media from the Web. And as with other consumer technologies, from PCs to smartphones, they inevitably will migrate from the consumer market to the business and become the latest tool in the executive's arsenal.
Actually they are better suited for some work environments and applications than laptops or smartphones. Any hard-working business traveler who has spent a long flight working on a laptop in the tight quarters of a business-class seat, with the edge of the keyboard shoved into his stomach, can instantly appreciate the attraction of a tablet. Tablets are obviously much easier for external sales and support personnel to use and could replace laptops entirely for these employees. Senior executives may find tablets better devices than laptops for consuming information both in their offices and homes and at meetings. And even those employees who need or prefer larger computers with greater power for their work may find tablets to be valuable supplemental tools for electronic business documents ranging from books to magazines to white papers, Web research, and similar uses. And any employees whose duties involve communicating to the public, such as internal PR, need experience using tablets so they can understand how to design messages for the increasing numbers of people who will be receiving them on tablets. These are not just laptops without keyboards.
Tablets need to be integrated into the IT infrastructure as part of an overall strategy to support present and future business needs with the most appropriate IT services, both internal and external. This strategy must balance several variables including functionality, security, lifetime cost, ROI, and the cost of support. As with all such considerations, this comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, and IT may find that one size does not fit all and that different user populations are best served by different devices.
Creating this strategy takes time, and the earlier IT starts this process the better. A year from now, whether IT has actively supported tablets or ignored them, a much larger population of the company's business and IT staff, customers, and investors will be using them, and expectations about work and the level of tablet support IT should provide will change accordingly. Keeping ahead of this curve requires that IT start developing that strategy early in 2012 if it hasn't already.
Action Item: IT should begin pilots designed to support the introduction of tablets to replace or supplement laptops and desktop PCs early in 2012, if it hasn't done so already. My next piece will outline a strategy for accomplishing this.