By Greg Henry, Vice President Product Management, DecisionPoint Systems Inc.
The acceptance of tablet computing
Consumer tablets are out selling laptops while new form factors and features are continually being introduced. While consumers continue to be a significant purchaser of these devices for reading eBooks, watching videos, playing games and web surfing, these devices are also becoming common place in workplace. To understand why tablets enjoy such great acceptance we need to look at what makes them different from other computer form factors. First and foremost, their bright, large color displays make them ideally suited for displaying visual content (pictures, videos, large amounts of text). Additionally, they intentionally lack large storage capabilities, keyboards and other space requiring features, thus they can be contained in a small, lightweight package that is easy to take on the go. In short their success is largely due to the fact they filled a niche many of us did not know existed.
Having spent over 20 years building and deploying mobile solutions for both large and small corporations, the question arises, “Does a similar niche exist in the enterprise?”
To answer this question we must evaluate the following parameters in relationship to one another:
Does your company use or create visual content?
In reality all corporations use some form of visual content. The largest example is internet usage. There is not a corporation in existence that does not at least occasional require internet access to locate a partner, research a part or service or find directions to a customer location. However, this question is really more about what type of content do you use to run your day to day business. Like the consumer world, visual content in the business world also includes pictures, videos and large amounts of text. However, the types and usage of this content vary greatly. As an example, while consumer video is largely for entertainment, corporate video may be related to training on the installation of a specific piece of equipment or it may be an overview of corporate policies or even a corporate sales presentation that is delivered to prospects. Unlike pictures of your summer vacation, corporate pictures include building blueprints, circuit board schematics and product images. Large bodies of text include assembly manuals, procedures and policy guidelines as well as corporate forms. If you use this type of information within your business operations you need to consider tablet computing.
Do your mobile workers need access to corporate content?
This question should be viewed from two perspectives. First, will your mobile workers benefit from access to corporate content and second will the organization benefit from such access. Ask yourself the following questions:
If my mobile workers had access to existing corporate content…
- will they be more productive? Corporate content can mean many things depending on your industry and the work your mobile workers perform. Content may include: pricing guides, blueprints, repair manuals, invoices, order forms, deliver routes, maps and so on. “Productive” may be defined as the ability to perform more stops, repairs or calls in a day or the ability to sell more products or collect more revenue.
- will my operation run smoother? Think about the time consumed between corporate staff and mobile workers updating routes, checking inventory levels, order status, locating customer locations, generating invoices, etc. If these mobile workers had instant access to these corporate resources how much time, energy and money can you save?
- will my customers be happier and will I provide greater value? For many industries, mobile workers are in constant contact with the customer. As such, they are often the face of your company and trust me, the impressions they make are lasting. This is about how effective a sales person or service technician can be in identifying and resolving issues if they have access to existing information at the point of service. You will not only improve their life but build happy repeat customers in the process.
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions you should determine the financial benefits and evaluate this against the costs of deploying a mobile content solution to determine the resultant ROI.
Are there additional mobile requirements that may not be met by a tablet computer?
What makes tablets a great “go anywhere” display tool also creates some limitations. As we mentioned earlier, tablets do not have the flexibility of a laptop computer or durability of ruggedized handheld computer. Therefore, before going all in on tablets consider your needs for extensive data entry (keyboards), large file storage or support for peripherals such as printers and test equipment. If your mobile workers require such features tablets may not be the right tool for you. Or you may be able to create a hybrid solution as there are a number of supporting products on the market that extend the tablets native capabilities (cases, keyboards, printers, and expansion products).