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Tablets in the enterprise: Risks and rewards

Shane O'Neill | Dec. 2, 2011
The Apple iPad was only released 18 months ago, but the swift proliferation of the tablet PC is already changing the way businesses think about user productivity.

The Apple iPad was only released 18 months ago, but the swift proliferation of the tablet PC is already changing the way businesses think about user productivity.

The iPad has obviously made consumers swoon, indicated by the 32.4 million units sold in fiscal year 2011. But enterprise adoption of the iPad has also been higher than anyone expected.

At the Enterprise MobileNext Forum this week in San Francisco, one of the more discussed subjects was the benefits and challenges of adopting iPads and other tablets and mobile devices in the enterprise. In his opening speech, IDC Chief Research Officer and Executive VP Crawford Del Prete mapped out IDC's mobility forecast for 2010 - 2020.

Not surprisingly, the use of tablets at businesses is predicted to grow dramatically over the next five years. According to Del Prete's research, employee-owned mobile devices used to access business apps reached 41 percent in 2011, up 10 percent over 2010. It will continue to grow at this pace to reach 70 percent by 2015, says Del Prete.

In 2010, he adds, 6.8 billion mobile devices were in use; that number will more than triple to 29 billion devices in 2020.

But while this sea change will bring many benefits, managing tablets is a complex task full of risks and tradeoffs, from securing and supporting them to budgeting for them.

The Danger of Buying Tablets for All

While the benefits of tablets are clear -- more portable than laptops, instant boot ups, thousands of apps, beautiful and useful graphics and touch-based UI -- IT managers still grapple with tablet challenges.

They must set policies and secure access to data, but just as important as safeguarding the devices, says IDC's Del Prete, is figuring out how to budget for them.

"Tablets can increase budget by 60 percent and the refresh cycle is similar to a smartphone -- two and a half years," says Del Prete. "So if you're just saying yes to everyone who wants to use a tablet, you'll go broke."

Assess your workforce to see who really needs a tablet, he recommends. By and large, workers who are desk-bound and create content should use a PC, whereas executives and roamers like travelling salespeople who consume content are prime candidates for a tablet, he says.

Securing the Tablet: Balancing Control and Flexibility

The key to safeguarding a tablet like the iPad while also keeping users happy is having a balance between flexibility and control, says IDC research director Nick McQuire.

"Tablet use and the consumerization of IT have turned the traditional IT role on its head," McQuire says. "Users make the decisions now, and IT has to embrace this new freedom without allowing anarchy."

 

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