Tablets And PCs Square Off

Tablets do work better than laptops for some people and tasks. Tailor the device to the workload.
The Who Factor

Based on these strengths and weaknesses, the key to a successful tablet policy is defining tasks and situations where the device can replace a PC, even if it can't entirely displace it. Look for areas where portability, convenience, and network mobility are more important than performance and capability.

Start a tablet program with employees who share a few traits: They're constantly on the go, and much of their work is conversational, working with customers and fellow employees, as opposed to analytical, building spreadsheets or writing legal briefs. Tablets are great for making presentations, looking up and demonstrating products from online databases, and conducting routine business correspondence. Because tablet documents can be interactive, they enable a richer conversation between salespeople and their contacts.

Although some executives may see the latest tablet as a necessary status symbol, MicroStrategy's Kerzner says tablets actually empower C-level managers to retrieve information directly, without an intermediary. Where they once might have had an assistant print out slides and memos before a meeting, now they can instantly access relevant information as they need it.

Tablets also are a good fit for nomadic workers. As electronic forms and records have replaced paper and the clipboard, many workers end up shuttling back and forth between their real jobs and a PC kiosk. Whether it's for nurses in a hospital, foremen on a factory floor, or sales clerks in a showroom, tablets let people be where they're needed and still maintain connections to enterprise apps and data.

For example, one of MicroStrategy's customers, Sonic Automotive, has replaced the 500-page binders regional managers used to tote around with iPads, a scenario several major airlines are emulating with pilots' flight manuals.

Look beyond information distribution; tablets can also advance business processes, Kerzner says. A CFO reviewing a purchase order on a tablet should be able to approve it and send it to the next stage of the ordering process. Plugging tablets into existing processes is usually done via apps that access existing back-end applications. Expect to see much more software development in this area as tablets make a bigger imprint in businesses.

Where Tablets Make Sense
Resist political pressure. Don't let status and power drive deployment; focus on where these devices make people more productive.
Do a focused pilot. Identify a specific scenario and job type where tablets can replace PCs--say, for roaming workers who can exploit a tablet's mobility, longevity, and convenience.
Develop an amplification strategy. Look for content-rich tasks and processes where mobile devices are the better platform, and find ways in which tablet-optimized apps can improve productivity, efficiency, and usability.
Don't forget support and admin. Develop mobile device management program to enforce policies on configuration, security, and data backup.
Don't force fit tablets. Tasks such as extensive data entry, number crunching, application development, and complex graphics and video production are best left to PCs.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer