The iPad as Enterprise Tool

43 Comments

The iPad (s aapl) is getting a reputation as being good for many things — media consumption, mobile messaging and games — to name a few. It certainly does all of those things but even before getting my hands on one I started thinking about the iPad in the enterprise. Not so much as a laptop replacement for the workforce, but as a specialized tool for certain functions that I believe the iPad would be good at doing.

After using the iPad for a few days, I am more convinced than ever that there is a place in big companies to take advantage of the special features of the device. I can see customer support employees using special apps to fill out forms as they deal with customers on the phone. The touch interface could be leveraged to good effect doing this, as many support departments operate with “scripts” written to handle problems over the phone.

The iPad is perfect for this type of repetitive data entry with the proper app running the show. The on-screen keyboard is adequate for the short data entries that don’t fit a scripted mode, while common entries can be programmed to mere button taps. The iPad is perfect for this, with only a light development effort needed to bring common tasks like this to life as an app.

I really believe that IT support staff can use the iPad to troubleshoot employee computer problems. I have spoken to many who do this for a living and they are already using LogMeIn on the iPhone to fix computer problems remotely. Throw in the larger screen of the iPad and this method is an outstanding way to provide this type of support.

Yesterday I ran some errands and found myself in a Target (s tgt) store picking up some items. I carried the iPad in a little case, along with the MiFi for 3G connectivity, just in case. I decided to get a coffee in the Starbucks (s sbux) in the Target, and I sat down to enjoy the drink. I hit the button on the MiFi, and pulled out the iPad to kill some time.

I was having fun in the Starbucks, surfing the web on the iPad, when I remembered I forgot to run a system scan for malware on the ThinkPad back in the home office. I started LogMeIn Ignition (as shown in my video) and logged into the ThinkPad on the iPad. I fired up Microsoft Security Essentials (s msft) and instigated a full system scan on the ThinkPad. Once that started I logged off and continued my web surfing on the iPad. The system scan was running on the ThinkPad in the office while I was sitting in Starbucks enjoying my coffee.

This is just scratching the surface of how the iPad can be leveraged in the enterprise to good effect. I had the pleasure of writing a deeper dive into this for our research arm, GigaOM Pro. If the subject interests you, give it a look (subscription required).

I’d love to hear your opinions on the iPad in the workplace. Can you see functions in your company that would be performed well with the iPad? Share it in the comments.

43 Comments

Luscious

The iPad will never make it in the enterprise realm – this is nothing more than a luxury toy.

Tom Benson

Actually the iPad has a better-than-good chance of evolving into the default solution for all ERP and CRM data entry, not just for mobile users but all users.

There is an enormous problem in the enterprise world, which is the dismal user satisfaction with current enterprise application interfaces. The iPad’s mobility and more important it’s extraordinary user interface fix this problem. Laptops can’t compete.

Our firm’s team is seeing significant improvements in use and efficiency for entire systems when we switched to iPhone/iPad for enterprise users.

There is some discussion on this topic, and all are welcome to contribute: http://blogs.zdnet.com/Apple/?p=6450

Autoexec.bat

Wait a second. I had thought I’d heard every justification for this device, but this takes the cake.

Perfect for enterprise and it can’t print? Seriously?

This is a toy, plain and simple. That’s not to say that Apple can’t make some tweaks to the OS to make it more enterprise friendly, but I think it’s funny how many tech pundits bend over backwards to shoehorn this devices into use cases that clearly do not fit.

Ruby

Now that iPad successfully got a 300,000 sales on their U.S launching, I too getting interested of buying this gadget and can be use as handy software tool aside from my laptop. Taking advantage of the special features like a touch interface and the on screen keyboard is one of the factor I love this gadget.

http://www.dreamwalkmobile.com/

Vitor Pepicon

A lot of people here aren’t considering the “interface” factor of the iPad ecosystem, for the ease of use and development of touch apps. This is what justifies the hype, and this is premium for the entereprise market, at least while we don’t have open “touch” platforms mainstream

Dan

Phone data entry using an on-screen virtual keyboard? NOT.

I’ve owned several tablets over the years, and for enterprise use the iPad brings nothing to the table that hasn’t been there before. As previously mentioned, a stylus for signatures and/or detail work is imperative.

Another issue I haven’t seen addressed is that most enterprises are going to balk at Apple’s “replace-only” repair coverage, especially if there is any sensitive data on the device whatsoever.

I get the whole “OMGizK00l!” mantra from the legion of drooling Apple fans, but an enterprise device, I think not.

Who

iPad, laptop, mifi, smartphone. How much do you guys expect us to spend on all this crap.

Chris Fourie

Well I run my dad’s IT in his pediatrics business and I’ll be moving 30km away in two days, so I have been experimenting with LogMeIn for a few days – and I am super excited to get it on the iPad, since I just got my hands on a MiFi!!! :D The only problem is… there isn’t a single iPad in South Africa…

Nameless

If the iPad can be used in the enterprise for something far more than an e-document reader with practical productivity gains, I’d really love to see it happen.

I do have a concern, though-Apple’s stranglehold on the OS and its apps. Does the enterprise really have the time to go through Apple’s application approval process before they can deploy what are likely to be very highly specialized apps, especially if one of them gets rejected for some stupid reason? (Sure, there’s jailbreaking, but that could open up an even worse can of worms from an IT standpoint.)

John

Nobody talks about a tsunami and other nonsense. You guys try to trivialize our arguments by pushing them to the extreme. Haven’t you seen in the past WinCE devices being employed by companies to perform specific tasks? Specific tasks for a mobile work force is precisely the bread and butter of a mobile OS; for so many reasons: Launch a browser, or an editor from suspend. Do this 10 or 20 times a day. Where can you do it faster? Where can you do it for a longer period? Where can you do it effortlessly without the need of extra input devices (like a pen or a mouse)?

Forget about Apple if you don’t like this company. Think about Android or WebOS or MeeGo, or iPad v.2. Even iPad v1 outperforms all netbooks for specific tasks by orders of magnitude. If we were to talk about an all-in-one computer, then iPad is clearly not the best choice at, least in this first iteration. But if we talk about a highly mobile device employed by a corporation to run a specific suite of programs, then iPad could blow out of the water anything that the industry has to offer right now. Same thing goes if Google, MS, Palm ect. decide to follow a similar path.

TonyP

I agree with your points about WinCE, Android, etc. those products usage in the enterprise didn’t occur with the initial release of the product it took time. Developers created compelling applications, employees brought the products into the office and then the boss, then IT supported it.

Perhaps it depends on the size, or our definition, of the enterprise, but none I’ve ever worked would allow a new device to connect or have access to the corp network. I do suppose if an organization already supports the iPhone for access to enterprise applications and services, then the length of time to adopt it will be much shorter.

TonyP

… good points, your use of LogMeIn Ignition to get work done on a remote computer, resolves some of the limitations.

The post on TheAppleBlog about the limitations of KeyNote point out a limitation for use in the enterprise. If I 1) have to directly connect the iPad to a projector, 2) can’t control the slideshow and refer to notes on the iPad and 3) that Keynote doesn’t render slideshows the same on the iPad as it does on the Desktop. Then the limitations outweigh the portability and ease of use.

Have you tried using LogMeIn Ignition to connect to a PC or Mac that is connected to a projector? It seems like this should be possible, that someone should be able to control the slideshow, refer to notes from their iPad while at a podium or walking around. Perhaps there is some other app that is better suited to this, or some RealVNC or MaxiVista or other app that is already available today.

The iPad may have its uses in the enterprise, much like other devices have over time (PDAs, Smartphones, etc.) as of this first release I don’t think it will make great inroads. It is more likely that as employees bring their iPads to the office IT personnel will be asked to find ways to make it work inside and/outside the firewall. So it will be 1-2 years before much headway into the enterprise.

Vladimer Kaveski

We already use iPad throughout our enterpise as a network analyzer that probes, penetrates and reports on all our corporate networking vulnerabilities particularly poorly written windows apps (even some written by microsoft). The iPad is a wonderful networking device, very fast and extremely long battery life.

BTW, we are planning to cluster hundreds of iPads together for a highly scalable flash net app to do portable stock market trading around the world on very short notice.

John

There is a huge potential for corporate use here. Stop looking ipad as a new device and start looking it as a new platform. Mobile platforms are way more efficient to perform specific tasks, an ipad-like device may run the specific piece of sw a company needs faster, longer and with a GUI that serves mobility. Yes, we need the appropriate software. Yes, Apple needs to relax some of it’s restrictions regarding corporate software. But these kind of platforms are the ideal environment for corporate applications, an environment that does not carry all the uneccessary overhead of a desktop OS. The iPad is a work in progress, start looking at the big picture please :)

Bernard Fife

Right on bro. You can be sure that corporations around the globe are brainstorming right now trying to think of unique use cases for the iPad in their enterprise. Think Global. The iPad tsunami has just begun and it will take months to traverse the world but it will happen. Corporate computing will never be the same but it will take some time to convert their IT departments just like they resisted the iPhone initially and now the iPhone has become the most powerful corporate phone in history (sorry crackberries but you’re time at top of corp ladder died last year). Apple enthusiasts will force corporate IT dunderheads to accept iPad deployment whether they like it or not in much the same pattern the iPhone used to rise to the top of the corporate landscape.

Patrick

Enterprise tool without stylus?! Are you serious??? This article is so “ingenious” just like claim of 120 million iPad units sold by year 2015. Purely preposterous… :S

Patrick

BTW just to counter comment like “there is a stylus for iphone/pad” i will say.. i mean a real quality stylus and not a bamboo stick. :)

Stephen Feger

Don’t be so negative. We used HP TC1100 tablets w/ the stylus and they went nowhere. Remember the TC1200 and TC1300? Of course you don’t, because they didn’t make them. Having a stylus is not a requirement of an enterprise level device. It’s a tool. It has some uses and it lacks others. For handwriting, it’s critical. But it’s also one other thing to lose (people hate those little cables you tether the pen with).

But it’s not a requirement. Not by a long shot.

Patrick

To me it is. When doing a bill of lading i need a handwriting certification, when i’m outside (in car) and there are freezing temps outside i need resistive screen because it’s not convenient to have hands in freezing weather, when i draw a diagram i need pen, when i write annotation i need pen, when i want to snap something i need camera handy (ICD Gemini has two, Notion Ink will have one), when i can’t find shade i need Sun readable screen, when i need app i want to add it instantly without app store mumbo jumbo or jail breaking the device. Etc. etc.
Whoever claims that this could be great enterprise tool.. really i don’t have nice words.. sorry James! ;)

Bernard Fife

Patrick FOR THE LOVE GOD please step away from your beloved Stylus (and Mouse) !! This is 2010 you should be glad you are witness to the rise of touch-computing. Kindly remove your cranium from that sand trap it appears to be lodged in.

The productivity gains alone make Apple-based touch computing light years ahead of the stylus/mouse dino computing model.

Patrick you might want to make a reservation at the Smithsonian Institution so your grand kids can pay a visit to see the last known stylus which will soon be on display behind some thick class.

All you MicroSoft Types need to chill out and drop your hate and jealousy of Apple and come to terms with the FACT that the iPad has already changed the way we compute and WE ARE NOT GOING BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nameless

Are you a troll? It sure sounds like it with your condescending, narrow-minded tone, and it’s hard to tell nowadays if people like you actually believe what you say or are just trying to get a ruse out of folks like me.

Touch is nice and all, but I’m not giving up a good Wacom pen. Do you really think I want to fat-finger a math equation, diagram, or drawing into a device, let alone my handwriting (and there are some instances where plain text out of any form of keyboard simply won’t do)? Then there’s the all-too-common handwritten signature requirement (unless you’re fortunate enough to live in Spain, then you just send an SMS text message containing your legally-binding signature).

As for the mouse, I have one very good reason to not give my Logitech G500 up: games. More specifically, FPSs. Certainly beats a twiddlystick for quickly lining up someone and getting the kill. There’s also the “gorilla arm” ergonomic problem that would happen if my desktop was purely touchscreen-driven.

I don’t care if what I use is hip, fashionable, or trendy. I care that it does what I want, how I want, and stays the heck out of my way while I use it. The iPad in its current state does NOT fulfill my needs, and I’m not going to downgrade my expectations of a good inking experience or convolute my life processes to integrate some particular tech gadget because you say so.

Betty G.

I’m just failing to see the value of this device. I have a less than $400 netbook that does way more than the more than $500 Apple iPad. It has a slightly smaller screen but not much and is far more customizable..in fact lets just say it IS customizable. I see no point in the iPad. I fear that many people buy these devices just because they bear the Apple name.

Robert

Betty, the “value” proposition will be different for each person. I’ve never owned an iPhone “just because they bear the Apple name,” but the iPad fills a need (actually many) that my notebooks, netbooks, desktops, and smartphones can’t fill as well.

Some people don’t mind reading extensively on small phone-size screens, but I find them too small for reading and reviewing business documents. Personally, I find clamshell notebook/netbooks uncomfortable to read in bed or on the couch. If you never read/browse in bed then it won’t matter to you. Many people will love the fact that the battery lasts over 10 hours. The instant-on capability, processor speed, and elegant user interface all make it very appealing for casual, spontaneous use.

In short, the iPad isn’t some mystical device that will satisfy everyone’s unique needs. But the form factor, application diversity, and overall package will make it very appealing to consumers and businesses.

Stephen Feger

I am astonished that no one else has been talking about this. I really am. I’m waiting for the release of the 3G iPad for exactly this purpose.

I work in government and I can tell you this, the iPad was made for the enterprise. When you look at the cost of the device, the relatively low price of the available data plan (iPad only!), the low weight, the fantastic battery life and the simplicity inherent in the OS, you have an extremely valuable piece of technology.

Having said that, there are issues. Locking down the device is a real problem. Make no mistake about it. This is not a well managed device from a corporate perspective. It wouldn’t be good to have people perusing porn sites on a taxpayer funded device. Don’t think that people don’t do that during work hours. You’d be amazed how stupid some people are.

But when you look at the potential, you can’t help but be practically overwhelmed. It’s huge.

The only thing that really bugs me is the lack of the camera. Yeah, I know everyone wants one. But my view was that it was a strategic mistake by Apple. I don’t care if they would have put a crappy camera on this. It would take a full year for developers (enterprise) to figure out how to incorporate the camera effectively in applications anyway. Now that we have to wait (likely) a full year before a camera might be added, that will push things back further.

Imagine an insurance adjuster using an iPad with a camera for annotating damage claims. An inventory system that provides a virtual and visual representation of everything you stock. A police department that fills out a police report instantly. A HAZMAT team that has an unlimited amount of reference material. The list goes on and on.

This is a great consumer device. It’s also going to be a fantastic business device. It will just take a little time.

KevinC

James, thanks for your insights. A lot of us have come to trust you and Kevin for giving us a thorough pro vs. con perspective. I’m already using this in business environment as my portable computing device for meetings and presentations. I tried logmeinignition but found it too slow and choppy to be of much use and have asked for a refund. I’m using Desktop Connect with great success, however. It works great on the internal networks and over 3G (MyWi) with much reduced latency. I’m even using VPN to a WinXP box at home to have access to every computer on my network from the field. Again, thanks for all the fish…. er um… info!

JLC

I am afraid from a student standpoint I also have to agree that the platform isn’t “fully cooked” yet. I expect it to be in the future but it isn’t yet. Text book availability, ability to annotate pdf’s in a tool like evernote, notetaking, drawing, the fact that pages and keynote docs generated on a mac are not fully compatible on the ipad versions of pages and keynote, mutlitasking between research and content generation, are all needed before this will be a viable tool for the student. I’m afraid my ipad is going back until these are in place.
That being said, the potential is there and I am excited about the future. It’s just not here yet.

KevinC

You say that those items aren’t fully cooked yet though you anticipate that they will be soon. You’d rather pay the 20% restock fee than wait it out a little bit?

Vladimer Kaveski

The iPad is a wardriving machine. We use it heavily to probe, penetrate WiFi networks for security purposes. It is highly portable in the field and has excellent battery life. We are planning on clustering hundreds (possibly thousands) of iPads for high performance businesss apps used in high-volume stock market trading that needs lower power/heat consumption, so far our test results look very promising.

I am sure others have many business applications that are very well suited for iPad. It is an awesome device. As they say, Game Changer !

Christian S

I seriously planned to buy an iPad just for this use. But Apple killed it a month ago.

You see, one of the important tools on my current iPod Touch, is an advanced Wifiscanner, and this used a private API it seems Apple has no intention to make a part of the public SDK. As an result the iPad does not have a full sett of tools to replace the iPod Touch/Laptop combo I use today. It also probably means that a couple of hacker tools I’ve recieved from a friend, will not compile on the iPad

I also think the iBook focus goes to much toward novels and litterature where a Kindle is better, and seems to totaly ignore my need for references and proffesional guides. I want a O’Reilly Safari app, a Wiley and Addison Westley bookstore, not Winnie the Pooh.

My intensions came from the fact that with my current set of tools on the iPod Touch, I could drop chugging my laptop around. Due to todays insane airport “security”, I could drop most of the tecknical weigth on my trips between our sites, and base all my IT administration partly on the iPad and partly on the onsite terminal clients.

As an added bonus , I would be able to work at the airport , in the production floor, and even on the ultra short flights I have to endure.

I could even do presentations.

Now I have to wait and see what OS 4 brings.

Doug

You can use any private API you want in your personal stuff, you just can’t submit to the app store. You don’t have to wait for apple to make any public.

jan

‘I can see customer support employees using special apps to fill out forms as they deal with customers on the phone’

You mean tick the box with the finger? I can’t see any other way of filling out forms on Ipad.

The other story is what happened to me once. The energy supplier representative knock on my door and was presenting how much I could save on electricity. Interesting was that he was making all real calculations on proper tablet pc – loaded with company software. I think it was a real deal as his calculations proved that shouldn’t change supplier.

Cary Phillips

@John C:
There are 2 different types of developers within Apple’s developer program: developers that develop applications to be sold in the app store and enterprise developers that have the ability to load apps directly on ipads/iphones within an organization. Enterprise apps don’t go through the app store.

Rich

Right, but there’s also the requirement that you have 500+ employees and a D&B number, which leaves out a significant number of businesses.

Many ( most? ) enterprises are moving towards web apps for their internal systems these days. I can’t imagine why they’d want to use an iPad when there are equivalently priced machines that can so the same thing, with far more flexibility and security; i.e. Separate user accounts, the ability to completely lock out non-work apps, etc. I don’t want my CSR’s to be able to go in and muck up the device’s configuration whenever they feel the urge to see what the other pretty icons do.

Shaun

First I’ve heard that you have to have a DUNS number and over 500 employees to develop an app. Is that documented in the SDK?

Rich

( Why doesn’t Shaun have a reply button? )

Shaun, it’s documented here: http://developer.apple.com/programs/iphone/enterprise/

Basically, if you don’t meet the 500 Employee/D&B requirement, you can only submit apps to the App Store, and “test” with 100 devices. Obviously that’s not acceptable with an enterprise app.

If you do get accepted into the Enterprise program, you can deploy apps internally to an unlimited number of devices.

Kevin C. Tofel

“Why doesn’t Shaun have a reply button?”

We only have the threaded comments going two deep for now, so you can’t reply to a reply of a reply. ;)

Karmakaze

This is another one of those “let’s try to justify the existence of this useless product” articles.

Seriously? This author thinks businesses are willing to pay the Apple premium to give their cube dwellers a slightly “cooler” way of doing what they can do already?

Dream on pal!

Stephen Feger

Coolness has little to do with the appeal of the iPad in a business environment. When you have to distribute technology to hundreds or thousands of people, simplicity takes on a whole new meaning. We’re not talking about geeks. We’re talking about everyday people and how quickly they can accept a tool and use it to its proper potential as quickly as possible. I’ve deployed wireless laptops to hundreds of users and the user support alone is a nightmare, never mind the infrastructure costs.

John C

I wish I could agree with your assertion that the iPad has a place in the enterprise, but I cannot. if the platform was open for development instead of being chained within the App store architecture, any idea of creating application that fit a particular business model for support is moot. ERP and CRM applications in use in the enterprise are both proprietary and heavily customized in many cases to fit the business process of individual companies. There is no one-fits-all model in play within enterprises that would benefit from the iPad. While I could see small businesses that might benefit by having ipad versions of canned solutions (quickbooks, etc) I cannot see the iPad having any relevance in the enterprise as anything other than a tool used by marketing or sales folks – perhaps an alternative to a projector when working with a potential customer in hallmarking the selling points of your product or service.

Your suggestion that the iPad can be used for technical support also fails on the simple fact that individuals doing tech support within an enterprise are already tethered t a workstation or laptop. $500+ to provide some sort of more mobile option for support when an existing workstation or laptop can provide does not make sense to companies already keeping their purse strings tight in this economy.

The iPad is a content consumption device that also supports a limited set of ‘conveniences’ for the tech enthusiast, but is not close to being a viable tool for enterprises.

Rich

What can the iPad do that any other netbook or laptop can’t? Remember, we’re talking about Enterprise apps here, which, by definition, means something you’re not going to find in the app store.

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