When PCs first started appearing in offices in the 1980s, many IT professionals made the mistake of ignoring or denigrating them, only to find themselves playing catchup for years as business users moved core functionality onto their desktops. IT cannot afford to make the same mistake with tablets today and risk finding out too late that whole departments have replaced core internal systems with SaaS offerings consumed on tablets. But neither should they panic and rush to deliver services piecemeal to whatever tablets come in the front door every morning with employees.
Because this is an entirely new major computing platform, the first stage of the development of this strategy is exploration. The purpose of this stage is to learn the capabilities of the various tablets and identify what IT services are appropriate for delivery to tablets and which are not. Part of this process involves gaining experience with tablets, and both IT staff and end-users should be involved. If your company already has employees who use tablets in the office as personal devices or supports some tablet users with business services, some of those users should be recruited as part of this exploration phase.
Your software vendors and cloud service providers should also be surveyed to determine their level of current and expected future support for tablet platforms. Your choices may in some cases be bounded by what the vendors are willing to provide in a tablet front-end. And in some cases the lack of tablet support from a vendor may contribute to a discussion of replacing that software with something more tablet-friendly.
This stage will over time evolve into a series of small pilots that may test different tablet choices with different potential business user groups and services. At this stage considerations such as the level of functionality of different tablets, their display quality and screen real estate, and internal resources can be tested. Such considerations as weight and strain on the user's hands and arms over long periods of use, and screen readability in different lighting situations, including full sunlight for external sales and support personnel, need to be evaluated in actual work situations. Physical security is also important — tablets have been stolen out of users' hands in “snatch-and-grab” thefts and broken accidentally when knocked out of the user's grasp.
Training also has to be planned. Tablets are not just laptops without the keyboard and mouse, and their interfaces, while designed to be intuitive, will not be immediately obvious to employees who have no experience with them. Users will need training both in the tablet's base interface and in how that is used in the specific apps that will be included in the company tablet image, as well as in tablet care and security.
Another issue for this stage will be finger versus pen input. Most tablets use inductive screens that are designed to sense the difference in electrical potential created by the touch of a finger. Steve Jobs, when he introduced the original iPad, made the ability to use the tablet with finges, rather than a stylus, a differentiation from the older generation of PDAs with pressure-sensitive screens. Nonetheless, while a finger is more convenient for some tasks, others, such as composing a trip report or other text-entry projects, are easier to do with a pen. And electro-magnetic pens designed for inductive screens are available are may be preferred by some users.
By the end of this stage IT should have a fairly good idea of what services it wants to deliver to which user populations on which tablets. At this point the third stage of larger, more formal trials designed to confirm these plans and to refine the tablet image to support each user population can begin. This will evolve into the final stage, full roll-out and post-roll-out surveying and development.
All of this needs to progress in parallel with the development of the overall IT services strategy that will see some services migrate from the data center to public cloud providers while other may be retained and turned into internal services running on virtualized internal environments. Overall this is a major transformation for IT.
Action Item: Tablets and IT-as-a-service go hand-in-hand, whether the enterprise strategy is to move all IT processing to the public cloud or keep core services internal. Tablets will not replace laptops and desktops for most users but will supplement them in situations where they make sense. Companies need to have a strategy for integrating tablets, and given that this is a new computing platform with its own challenges as well as advantages, this strategy will take time to develop.