10 key issues when deploying tablets for business

Tablets – flashy consumer devices, good for nothing but reading online magazines, watching videos and checking on Facebook friends.

That’s how the iPad, Playbook and the host of Android-based tablet devices are typically described. But all that is soon to change according to one technology analyst and an arts university president who keeps a close watch on mobile media and tech trends.

By 2014, media tablet adoption in the business sector will be in full bloom, according to Krista Napier, senior analyst for Canadian emerging technology and digital media at the Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada.

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Speaking at the MobiBiz forum on mobile technology in Toronto, Napier said a growing number of Canadian firms both in the large enterprises and small and medium-sized business (SMB) sectors have either deployed tablets or are testing out the devices for possible roll out to their employees. Napier’s presentation at MobiBiz was entitled: Media Tablet Reality Check: What Canadian Organizations Need to Know.

“Tablet adoption into the business world,” she said, “will largely depend on the development of suitable apps that will transform user experience from mere reading to interacting.”

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“Disruptive integration” with other technologies will also take tablets beyond their current status, said Dr. Sara Diamond, president of the Ontario College of Arts & Design (OCAD). Diamond, an artist and designer, is a researcher in the field of mobile media.

Apart from her high profile involvement in various arts councils, Diamond is a member of the board of directors at Optical Regional Advance Network of Ontario, the province’s high speed network; Interactive Ontario; and founding chair of the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre. Diamond’s presentation at MobiBiz was entitled: Mobile Innovation: The Future Keeps Moving.

“Developments such as data visualization on mobile devices, augmented reality, haptics and screen technologies that produce lighter and flexible touch screens…could bring about the rebirth of interactive publishing and new gaming possibilities,” said Diamond.

Business opportunities

IDC defines media tablets as hand held devices with 5” to less than 14” touch screens running on light operating systems such as Android OS, iOS for Apple devices, or QNX which is used on PlayBooks. Much of the hype around tablets began in 2010 and is only this year that companies are beginning to explore strategies on how the devices can be used for business, said Napier.

The leading tablet operating systems are:

  • Android
  • Apple iOS
  • Web OS

Napier said the “optimal” tablet price is around $391. “At around $290, people consider the device cheap, the median price is $600 but anything over $700 is considered too expensive.”

Currently, 63.5 per cent of Canadian businesses see tablets as an additional device they can buy (either with company funds or through personal purchase) and bring into their company network. Businesses do not think tablets will replace other devices they are using, according to March 2011 IDC survey.

“This is still a very young market and there are lots of business opportunities,” said Napier.

For instance, she said, the upscale Toronto restaurant e11even offers its wine list on an iPad. “The restaurant has over 600 different wins in its cellar. Imagine fitting that into a standard wine list. Plus the iPad is great for highlighting wines and providing diners a unique experience.”

SunLife Financial is also one of the several banks and financial companies on an “experimental stage” with tablets, according to Napier. The company is looking to buy some 1,000 BlackBerry PlayBooks, which they believe would provide the appropriate security features SunLife needs, she said.

Car dealers are also using the tablet to show off new models to their prospective customers.

Tablets and smartphones are the perfect shopping companion, according to OCAD`s Diamond. “Tablets are great for showing off clothing lines. But stores could also user QR codes so that tablet and smartphone users can scan them to gain more information about an item,” said Diamond.

“Throughout 2012 and 2013, we will see more managers and business executives roll out tablets in a BYOD (bring your own device) manner,” said Napier. “Greater uptake will occur in 2014 as more business-appropriate apps are developed.”

What tablets need to be

“Right now there’s a need for greater understanding that tablets are not just for browsing and email,” said Napier.

In the retail and food services industries, businesses can deploy with applications that have point of sale (POS) capabilities. “Customers will not only use tablets to view products but pay for them as well through mobile transactions,” she said.

Already, some auto dealers are using tablets as a come-on for car buyers. The device’s utility could be extended, said Napier, by turning the devices into digital car manuals that could alert car owners about an upcoming scheduled maintenance.

Banks and financial companies are also investigating the possibility to enabling agents to sign up clients and do online transactions with tablets, she said.

10 things to know about tablet deployment

Napier said businesses contemplating the rollout of tablets in their workplace need to consider 10 key issues:

  1. User requirements and objectives – Have a clear idea of what your users need and what are the firm’s objectives. Will handing out tablets help meet these objectives? What functions and features will your users need?
  2. Hardware and software differences – There are lots of tablets and operating systems out there. Find out which one suits your business and your users best.
  3. Define your tablet policy – Have clear cut rules about device ownership, privacy and security issues, access to data and general use.
  4. Get good apps – Apps will make the difference between having a simple Web browsing device and a tablet that can add value to you business process. Make sure you develop or load apps that serve your users and clients best.
  1. Watch out for BYOD – Some employees will want to bring in their own devices. Consider how your IT department will handle this.
  2. Manage user expectations – Make sure you have the appropriate education and training program to ensure employees know what tablets can and cannot do.
  3. Platform issues – Be aware of platform issues involving your tablet of choice. Make sure there is a good fit with your network.
  4. Mind the bigger mobile picture – Tablets should not be the end all and be all of your strategy. Determine how the device will fit into your company’s larger mobile and communications strategy.
  5. Be proactive – The tablet market may be young but there are lots of businesses trying out the devices. Tablets might not be for your company but you should proactively investigate the possibilities because the competition could be doing so already.
  6. Tablets won’t save you – Tablets could develop into real wonderful devices, but at the end of the day they are only tools that are as good as the way they are implemented.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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