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The cutting edge of enterprise tablet deployments

by David Needle

May 3 2012

Randy Nunez of Ford Motor Company, one of the speakers at Tablet Strategy, says the auto giant has tried different approaches to rolling out tablets with an emphasis on getting them in the hands of users quickly. (Photo: David Needle)
Randy Nunez of Ford Motor Company, one of the speakers at Tablet Strategy, says the auto giant has tried different approaches to rolling out tablets with an emphasis on getting them in the hands of users quickly. (Photo: David Needle)

Zero footprint tablets? iPad-only meetings? BYOD as a profit engine? A number of innovative deployment strategies and usage scenarios were discussed at the recent TabTimes Tablet Strategy conference in New York.

As has been well-documented, the popularity of the iPhone and iPad helped spawn the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement that a growing number of companies have come to embrace -- grudgingly or with various levels of enthusiasm. 

In my own reporting and elsewhere many IT managers have commented that there’s really no cost-savings to BYOD because it typically means the company has to support new devices it hadn’t planned to, which in turn means having to implement additional security and connectivity. 

But some of the speakers at Tablet Strategy had a very different view. For example, while some consider the iPad’s lack of a USB port a negative, Dale Potter, Senior VP and CIO at The Ottawa Hospital, said it’s a definite plus from a security point of view. 

“I wrote to Steve Jobs before the iPad 2 was released asking him, “For God’s sake, don’t put a USB port on that thing because I need to protect patient health records,” said Potter. The Ottawa Hospital is one of the largest academic, teaching health care institutions in Canada and has deployed thousands of iPads. 

BYOD pays off 

And according to Aaron Tantleff, Senior Counsel at the law firm Foley & Lardner, BYOD saves companies money. Foley & Lardner was one of the first major law firms to have a full BYOD policy and Tantleff said the payoff has been significant. “It’s been a huge money saver for us,” Tantleff said.

But Tantleff also warned that companies need to implement specific BYOD policies before letting employees use their devices to access corporate resources. For example, if employees are going to store enteprise data on their personal devices, they need to understand that IT and management could have access to all the information stored there (both personal and company data) depending on the policy and what technology's been implemented. Some programs let you segregate personal files and things like social media accounts so they're only accessible to the user. 

Tantleff told me during a break between sessions that his company's BYOD program has been so successfu that each employee now gets  a $1,500 allowance to buy the device(s) they want (capped at $3,800 for three years). BYOD saves companies money on training costs, he added, because “it’s the user’s own device, they already know how to use it.” 

That view was echoed by Randy Nunez, Technical Expert for Mobile Computing Technologies at Ford. BYOD is happening because “people are coming to IT and saying this is what we want,” he said, noting Ford is able to save on costs because people are already trained on the devices and have purchased them on their own.

Nunez says Ford has experimented with different approaches to deploying tablets, both BYOD and IT-issued, with an emphasis on getting them in the hands of users quickly. For example, rather than spending a lot of time figuring out what mobile device management and other IT-oriented software should go on the device, Ford gave some users in the manufacturing division a kind of “zero footprint” iPad with a minimum of pre-installed software. 

“It worked better for some groups than others,” said Nunez

For example, some of the users who had previously used Windows notebooks said they needed more storage than the iPad offered and USB ports. For others, who previously relied on clipboards, the iPad was a boon because it gave them more flexibility to access and share data. Ford did include software to let them access their desktop PC apps remotely which, among other things, let them print from the iPad. 

The iPad as a strategic resource

The iPad has emerged as the clear tablet of choice at content management software provider Alfresco. Todd Barr, Alfresco's VP of marketing, says 99% of the company’s 250 employees use the iPad, with a few Android tablets making up the rest. 

“The decision to offer company-issued iPads was strategic for where we were going as a company and also about changing the work culture,” says Barr. Alfresco considered setting up a private app store, but decided on a BYOA (Bring Your Own Apps) policy instead that lets users expense apps as needed from their own iTunes account.

Barr said the iPad’s instant-on portability has been a game changer because it allows employees to share and present ideas anywhere without boot up time or, for example, having to balance a bulky laptop during an impromptu meeting in the hallway.  

The company has also instituted iPad-only meetings and encouraged users to experiment with different ways of presenting ideas going so far as to give prizes for the best presentation using a non-presentation app. 

“Don’t turn your tablets into PCs,” says Barr. “Apps are cheap, encourage experimentation.” 

Alfresco is even evangelizing the idea that tablets offer a new paradigm for presenting ideas and “the future of work.” The company is offering a free ebook at Occupymeeting.com called “Death By PowerPoint, Resurrection By Tablet.”

David Needle is Executive Editor of TabTimes and is based in Silicon Valley.

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