Tablets in the Enterprise: Still a Blank Slate
Dec 7, 2011 5:00 AM PT
It's about time to change the stereotypical tablet user from casual and hipster to high-management.
The post-PC world is now; tablets and other mobile devices are beginning to dominate the marketplace. An estimated 45 million tablets will be sold in 2011, three times the number sold in 2010, according to BMO. With that explosion in popularity, it is no surprise they are making their way into the enterprise environment.
From the emergency room to the boardroom, tablets and other mobile devices are decreasing paper-based processes, as well as improving communications, workflows and efficiencies. The linchpin to tablets' future in the enterprise environment will be the incorporation of a tablet user interface.
In With the New
Filling a different niche than PCs do, tablets will be widely adopted in the enterprise environment in numerous verticals. Eighty percent of businesses will support a workforce using tablets by 2013, according to Gartner Research.
The old computer paradigm of a massive box that takes up half a desk was a result of physical, size and weight limitations; the tablet has lifted these physical barriers, paving the way to excel in mobile and other environments.
Tablets are already used across a swath of sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, real estate and retail. Hospitals are using tablets to facilitate information sharing. Instead of fumbling with a pile of charts or rushing back to a desktop, doctors can quickly access a patient's records, check for medication interactions or view x-rays from anywhere in the hospital.
Financial institutions are leveraging these devices to streamline loan applications. Architects are bringing tablets to meetings to show blueprints and floor plans that can be updated on the fly; previously, mounds of printed plans would be out of date the second an alteration was made.
Retailers are implementing tablets to have roaming checkouts, price checks and inventory records. Airplane pilots use tablets for charts and other navigational tasks. These applications are just the tip of the iceberg -- enterprise tablet uses will develop with the product itself.
Despite all the success stories, the tablet is not right for every environment -- at least not today. It is all too trendy to look to the tablet for every business environment, but certain solutions are just too complex or oversaturated with features to be easily ported to the tablet.
Job functions that require heavy data entry and intricate document creation are currently too cumbersome to carry out on tablets. It is less about the tablet itself and more about the task the tablet is asked to perform.
This will change in the future, as the next five years will be dramatic in the progression of tablet capabilities. For example, actionable table functionality is expected to flourish through voice commands, advanced gestures and other methods.
What to Consider
While numerous businesses are finding improved efficiencies and communications since adopting tablets, others are trying to ascertain if they're right for their organizations. Regardless of some of the tablet's obvious limitations, however, they will continue to find their way into the enterprise environment.
Before an organization adopts a strategy to implement tablets, there are some things to consider. Understanding the role of the users and the functionality they require is critical to maximize the success of deploying the tablet in the enterprise environment. Companies with employees who work in the field, for example, will benefit greatly from tablets. Companies also need to evaluate the available applications in the market in order to best apply tablets in their daily operations.
Unfortunately, today's application offerings are often ported from existing applications and do not translate smoothly to the tablet because they were created without much consideration for touch-enabled devices.
Furthermore, complex software applications for the enterprise include a number of features that do not lend themselves easily to the simpler and more intuitive application paradigm and input methods that the tablet platform supports. They will have to be restructured and deployed with a subset of functionality in order to be cohesive with tablets.
However, it is important to understand that tablets are still in an early development stage, and there are not many suitable applications available on iOS or Android to support an enterprise or productivity-focused company.
However, specialized workforces and mobile workforces can leverage existing tablet offerings to increase efficiency and streamline daily processes now. Once the kinks in the user interfaces of ERP-level applications are ironed out, tablet use in business will excel well beyond those specific workforces.
The Right Approach Going Forward
Improved user interface design will transform the way tablets are used in organizations and greatly increase the benefits of tablet implementation in businesses. Going forward, it will be paramount to design interfaces that will allow users different, customized applications that are tailored to their specific needs for a seamless experience.
The reduced form factor of a tablet and the usage patterns of the end user require a special user experience that showcases just a fraction of the functionality of an enterprise-rich desktop application; tablets don't have the capacity to offer everything a PC does, but they offer unique advantages.
Out of the box, the tablet is a great tool for specialized tasks in workforces. However, the integration of superior user interface designs will accelerate the tablet's adoption in the enterprise environment -- and that adoption will accelerate efficiency and productivity in myriad industries.