Cautionary Tablet Tales: Learning from Early Adopters' Missteps

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Six Tips for Deploying iPads in the Enterprise

Tips for enterprise integration of Apple products.

Just last week I wrote a post in which I encouraged CIOs not to waste any time developing tablet strategies. Whether or not tablets prove to be the game-changer everyone seems to think they could be, companies will want to experiment with them-and not just with Apple's iPad, but with some of the other tablets hitting the market. This will be one of the challenges for IT, as tablets lack the kind of standardized development platforms used for Web applications.


As I noted in my post, the success of deployments such as the rollout of 1,100 iPads at business intelligence software provider MicroStrategy has both business executives and IT organizations interested in tablets. But for every success, there's a troubled implementation, and more organizations are beginning to share those as well. Hopefully organizations considering tablets will be able to learn from the problems encountered by early adopters.


An ill-fated iPad deployment is the first of five stupid user tricks included in an InfoWorld article and is described as "falling prey to fadware." A nameless IT admin relates a tale in which his or her "non-technical" CIO agrees to buy 40 iPads for the company's sales department. It didn't take long for problems to begin, according to the admin:

A decent enterprise-class deployment tool that works with an iPad doesn't exist. There's nothing that can deliver a package config. When they arrived, every iPad had to be configured manually, one at a time. ...

When VPN software didn't work with the iPad, the IT organization created an externally accessible SharePoint site, which the admin says "kind of, almost, sort of works with the iPad's browser." Syncing iPads with Outlook Web Access took care of e-mail, "but you can forget about single sign-on," the admin says. In addition, the sales department's in-house CRM application did not work with the iPad, necessitating the development of a new one-page front end specifically for the iPad.


Though its $600 cost is often mentioned as a huge selling point for the iPad, the admin says the actual cost ended up being more like $1,000 when all expenses were considered-not including the staff hours required to hand-configure the devices or time involved in teaching the sales team how to run presentations off the device. The admin concludes:

... More and more I'm seeing iPads left on desks when these guys go out into the field.

A CIO.com article relates a similar iPad cautionary tale, albeit one that sounds like it has a happier ending. Still, Ashwin Ballal, CIO of semiconductor equipment manufacturer KLA-Tencor (KLAC) describes the companywide euphoria over the CEO's decision to gift the company's 5,400 employees with an iPad as a "nightmare" for the IT organization.


Though iPads weren't officially supported as an enterprise device, IT certainly couldn't ignore them as iPads would be allowed to tap into KLA-Tencor's network for e-mail, calendaring, contacts, Web apps and other purposes. And customer-facing sales and service technicians could use them to access data over a virtual desktop. (I suspect many IT organizations find themselves in this gray area of "non-official support.")


With more than 5,000 employees, Ballal was understandably concerned about the help desk being flooded with calls when the iPads were handed out. The CIO found a mobile management solution that would let employees connect to the network without assistance. Working with the vendor, MobileIron, KLA-Tencor configured Active Sync and Active Directory in a way that allowed KLA-Tencor's Active Directory talk to MobileIron software. They were able to get this functionality up and running in three weeks.


Employees are directed to a portal where they can register iPads, receive a certificate on the device and then connect to the company network. The certificate authenticates the device and gives KLA-Tencor the ability to wipe the device remotely. A key to making the self-service approach work was providing simple documentation with a minimal number of steps, Ballal tells CIO.com.


Security was not a huge issue for KLA-Tencor as the company was already supporting iPhones and thus had laid groundwork such as creating mobile policies governing passwords and other requirements. For employees that might have sensitive work-related data on the devices, about 5 percent of the total work force, the CIO decided to put a Citrix-based virtual desktop on iPads. Says Ballal:

You don't need virtual desktops for iPads, but if you want to take iPad security to the next level, then you need to get to the virtual desktop.

I think some lessons can be learned from these two stories:

  • Do some reconnaissance to find out if business users are talking about tablets. A couple of panelists at the Midmarket CIO Forum suggested CIOs should look for opportunities to chat with rank-and-file workers to get an inkling of early interest. If they hear a lot of buzz about tablets, CIOs can begin proactively mentioning security risks and other key considerations to managers, who may then address them with their employees.
  • Ask folks to present a business case. Bart Perkins, former CIO for Dole Food Company and Yum Brands and now a managing partner at IT consulting company Leverage Partners, mentioned at the Midmarket event that one of his clients asks business leaders who would benefit from IT projects to make a case for them with their peers. "If the business leader isn't willing to stand up for it, then the CIO won't do it," Perkins said. Some managers might be discouraged from presenting a proposal for tablets to their colleagues if they don't have a clear purpose in mind. At the least, this will buy CIOs a little time while managers mull it over.
  • Determine how folks will use tablets. (Ask them!). Research and/or test the devices to ensure they can deliver the desired functionality without too much hassle or expense. The first IT organization might have foreseen problems with the VPN and homegrown CRM app had it done so. (Granted, it doesn't sound as if it had a chance!)
  • Self-service seems like a good option to cut down on help desk support. But make the process as simple as possible, as KLA-Tencor did. While tablet makers tout their intuitive interfaces, remember some user training may still be required.
  • If you're already supporting mobile phones or other mobile devices, leverage lessons learned. You may be able to use some existing policies and procedures for tablets, or at least as a logical starting point for more tablet-specific guidelines.