What's the Business Case for Tablets?

By Lori Castle — November 15, 2012

Tablets are the new enterprise workhorse, but there are many questions that need to be answered before the cap-ex form is signed. At this year's Mobile Enterprise Executive Summit (Nov. 7-9), Greg Lush, Mobile Enterprise Editorial Advisory Board member and Senior Vice President Learning & Quality at ABM Industries led an executive workshop, which examined the business case for tablets.

Fifty mobile executives from across industries gathered in groups for a roundtable discussion to focus on three questions, and then reported their top talking points. Despite the diversity of industries and titles from business to IT, the three groups reached very similar conclusions as they all face the challenges of justifying cost, deciding which device is best and securing corporate data. Here's some of what they had to say.

Should your company consider tablets for the next employees hardware upgrade cycle? It seems like there would be an obvious answer to this question — yes. However, overall the groups reported that while the desire to switch to tablets is there, the business case is still not solid in most of their organizations. Finance demands total cost of ownership be addressed .

Several executives predicted that even as their companies transition to tablets, there would still be user tiers, with some functions working on desktops only, some on laptops and still others on tablets. One company envisioned the ability to share devices with ease and thought that might be a case for tablets in their organization. The definitive exception for the overwhelming majority of companies, was with field workers where the use of tablets is clearly justified.

What is the right hardware/OS?
While there are some niche choices, when referring to hardware and OSes in this conversation the big names we being considered: Apple/iOS, Google/Android and Microsoft Windows 8 — sorry RIM.

To make the right hardware/OS decision, the mobile execs in this workshop agreed that drilling down to the specific use case (rather than the higher-level business case) would be necessary. One participant said, "You need to fit the hardware to the use case, not the other way around."

Among the criteria to match to the use case, participants thought you should consider security capabilities, app ecosystems, price point, ease of use, environment and life expectancy.

Speaking of apps, one participant said, "It's less about the hardware and more about the apps." Will your business be approach this through native or HTML? You have to think about what processes you want to enable with the tablet.

What enterprise considerations need to be taken into account?
Despite a host of issues the mobile execs could take into account, security was essentially the only answer to this question. Some talked about managing the device, but as the discussion evolved, so did the case for managing data instead.

A few of the participants believe managing data is the only way to move forward and minimize risk and that the device is irrelevant. While most believe there needs to be a combination of security at the device level, within the app and at all network access points.

When it comes to the issue of wiping a device (from any point), preserving personal data came up. One participant pointed out that this is not a new or unique technology challenge. There is always personal data on the technology employees use — desktop, laptop, phone and tablet. Most believed this was simply a matter of setting policy so the end user had a clear understanding that their personal data could be wiped at the discretion of the company.

Everyone came away from the workshop with a better understanding of what to focus on when considering the business case for tablets. Lush said, "Mobile devices are here to stay, from the small to large screen. Avoid getting wrapped up in the 'what' and focus on the 'why'.  Any mobile deployment, phone or tablet, should start with a strong purpose. Finally, consider protecting intellectual property at the item level and not the place in which collateral is stored. Tablets come to life when folks have unencumbered access."

And while businesses may think all the decisions are up to them, Lush cautioned, "Within five years, users will simply tell us what works and we need to be agile enough to adapt."

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