The iPad may be one of the biggest consumer electronics this year, but as deafening as the hype is, there are some perceived shortcomings in its design — including a lack of multitasking, no Flash support and the absence of a “real” OS under the hood. But these “shortcomings” are the traits that make the Apple’s tablet perfect for the enterprise.
In Love with Lock-Down
Large corporations have a locked-down mentality when it comes to computers in the workplace. This attitude is one of necessity, as security and liability concerns are well understood. The typical enterprise computer configuration is often tied to an intranet that restricts employee usage by its very design. The intent is to focus how the corporate network is accessed and used by employees, in order to provide the utmost security against outside interference.
Many companies have long provided employees with restricted computers that are used more like the thin clients of old than the modern hyper-connected devices employees use in their personal life. Many of these machines don’t have programs installed locally; they basically operate as displays into the main company network. All programs that are run by employees in the course of working are actually run on the server, with the PC simply a window into that controlled network. The iPad is very well suited for this sort of use by on-the-go workers.
From the user’s perspective, it is easily carried from location to location, internally or outside the office, and can access the network handily. This turns it into a cheap, mobile computer that can do anything a “full” computer can do. From the enterprise’s perspective, the so-called shortcomings of the iPad aid the ability to provide a restricted environment in the workplace leveraging the app environment, simplifying IT management, reducing software conflicts, and easing IT support functions.
Living Within Limits
No multitasking means IT-issued iPads can run only one app at a time, which is a plus for businesses. In typical Windows-based environments, corporate IT staff spend a large portion of their time dealing with issues that crop up due to special company programs that don’t play well with other apps. These take time to diagnose, as employees can typically run a myriad of different programs at the same time. That won’t happen on the iPad, so any problems will be easier — and cheaper — to solve. There is an advantage to only be able to run one program at a time on the iPad — no clashes.
Enterprise installations also take great pains to restrict how employees can interact with the Internet. Some block certain types (or even all) of outside web sites from employee access, and others restrict access to company sites. Either one of these efforts is easier to handle on the iPad, as site interaction can be structured as web apps and thus remove the open web from the equation. For example, if employees need to interact with the Human Resource intranet, a web app can be produced to handle that process. This allows total corporate control over the employee usage of intranets. With the browser removed from employee access, security issues can be prevented, and IT support will be easier. There is a cost to produce these web apps, but companies already spend resources to develop and maintain the intranets.
Many companies spend a lot of effort to prevent the installation of unapproved programs on company computers, restricting how company tools are being used and how employees might be spending work time. This is where the iPad really shines, with the iPhone OS running things instead of Windows. The enterprise can easily lock them down in the workplace to prevent employees from installing any apps. Apple has tools facilitating deploying the iPhone in a restricted environment, and it is certain they will do so for the iPad as both are running the same OS. Only approved and supported apps can be installed by the IT department, thus removing the employee from the process.
The Form Factor Advantage
Many companies also have internal functions that stand to benefit from the use of a slate tablet. Microsoft’s Tablet PC has failed to gain much traction in the enterprise, but that’s not due to a lack of demand. Major PC makers still produce enterprise class Tablet PCs, so the demand is there. Instead, that failure had more to do with the high cost of adoption of the Tablet PC, coupled with the additional support issues they bring to the corporate table.
The cost of the iPad is more in line with the ability of the enterprise to bring them in for handling tasks for which a slate is better suited. For instance, customer support tasks that require workers to fill out forms are a good fit for a slate. A keyboard is unnecessary if a company designs a web app for each form that is used internally on a massive scale. Not only would the iPad excel at such tasks from a time perspective, but error control could be rigidly maintained if done properly. Many customer support tasks are simply following a script and ticking off completed items. Those kinds of tasks, which are highly repetitive with a limited scope of data entry, can be handled with good form software on a touch slate like the iPad.
Corporate IT staff are already using LogMeIn Ignition on the iPhone to access employee computers to aid in troubleshooting problems. LogMeIn allows an iPhone user to take control of any computer world-wide over the Internet. The iPhone user sees the remote computer’s desktop, and runs it just as if they are sitting in front of the computer. This is the best method for troubleshooting problems on the remote computer, as the issue can be observed and resolved remotely. I have spoken with folks who support hundreds of systems globally using this remote control method, and the only complaint they have is the tiny display of the iPhone.
Indeed, the small-screen problem is solved with the larger iPad, and LogMeIn Ignition can allow IT staff to support both Macs and Windows PCs from the iPad with ease. The program not only turns the iPad into a full PC or a Mac in essence, it enables touch control on that device. I foresee this remote control will be the “killer app” for the iPad in the consumer space — and even more so in the enterprise.
- The enterprise should be looking very carefully at the iPad to fill a number of internal functions. The lack of multi-tasking, restricted OS and the lack of Flash in the browser make it easier for implementing a kiosk-mode (limited use) computer for the enterprise. This can create a more secure and restricted use environment, which is cheaper and easier to support for large corporations.
- Major corporations have many areas that can benefit from tablet usage. Departments that handle the routine filling out of forms or require a limited scope data entry can leverage the advantages that tablets bring inherently.
- Companies spend a lot of time controlling web access by employees, and the iPad can be configured to make that a thing of the past. Employee interaction with intranets can be handled via web apps, thus removing the web browser from the situation and restricting how employees access things on the web.
- Deploying iPads to support staff is the killer application for the enterprise. The iPad is cheap and easy to lock down, yet with readily available tools the device can be used to remotely access any PC or Mac the enterprise has deployed globally. Troubleshooting problem computers can be as simple as accessing the system with the iPad, and fixing most issues remotely.