Apple has always been considered a consumer technology company, not an enterprise one. Yet the success of its iPad has just about every enterprise-oriented hardware vendor out there, from Research in Motion to HP to Lenovo, introducing tablets to compete with the iPad.
It isn't clear yet whether tablets will be a real game changer as laptops and PCs before them were, or a trend in need of a compelling use case like netbooks.
The tablet buzz is growing as more reports emerge of companies making good use of iPads. In September I wrote about MicroStrategy's deployment of 1,100 iPads to executives and sales personnel, with a company executive saying the tablets were boosting productivity and cost less than laptops.
SAP, which has 2,500 iPads in use, is modifying its infrastructure to support other mobile devices as well, writes InformationWeek's Bob Evans. SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann recommends using a central device management tool to facilitate security, provisioning and retirement in a multi-device model. Not surprisingly, SAP uses a tool called Afaria, produced by its wholly-owned subsidiary Sybase
Management tools must be able to address the blurring between personal and professional lives that tends to occur with tablets and other mobile devices, Bussmann tells Evans, with the ability to wipe corporate data and content from a personal device when an employee leaves the company while also preserving personal data. IT organizations will need to respond more quickly to users' requests for upgrades, which will mirror the rapid pace of manufacturers introducing new features, Bussmann says.
Bussmann tells Evans SAP started with basic office productivity tools such as e-mail, calendars, VPN access, desktops over Citrix and people directory. SAP employees also use a mobile app from the company's Business Objects business intelligence software for on-the-fly KPI monitoring and data analysis. Bussmann calls it "the No. 1 solution people want across our different user groups." Bussmann mentions the app is especially popular among sales and marketing staff, who benefit from access to the most up-to-date data, a key requirement for mobile BI.
SAP used in-memory technology to move its entire CRM database, with three terabytes of data and more than 12 million records, into its Hana appliance. Using an iPad outfitted with Business Objects software as a front end, SAP sales personnel can "analyze 650,000 opportunities in real time," Bussmann says. The combination of mobile devices and in-memory processing "lets salespeople get the answers and insights they need without having to wait 10 or 20 or 30 seconds."
Bussmann isn't the only CIO talking up tablets' potential. In a CIO.com interview, Google CIO Ben Fried encourages CIOs to waste no time in formulating tablet strategies. He says:
Some people already feel that they're behind on the game on this. But if you look at the variety of Android tablets coming out, it's clear that it will be a diverse landscape and you have a chance to get in ahead of this. CIOs are going to have to think about software delivery. Are we going to buy software for these tablets? Do we have to think about training for our development organizations to learn how to build for these things? Do we have to think about optimizing Web browser experiences to work for this stuff? CIOs need to have a strategy and opinions about tablets because it will be the next personal computing platform that we're expected to provide at the enterprise, and very quickly. It will be this year.