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How IT shops are coping with tablet mania

The policies that companies use for smartphones can work for tablets, too.

June 6, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - When RehabCare executives started asking IT for Apple iPads several months ago, CIO Dick Escue didn't miss a beat.

Unlike many of his peers in the healthcare industry, he had no real qualms about security, despite the specter of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Nor did he have misgivings about users loading the devices with personal photos and music, or about the possibility that iPad users would need additional IT support.

While these concerns have other IT shops scrambling, the RehabCare team was ahead of the game. Thanks to a widespread deployment of Apple's iPhone a couple of years earlier, the St. Louis-based provider of acute care services had a formal deployment strategy that it could apply to the iPad and other tablets.

Rather than trying to ban mobile units or deploy them haphazardly, RehabCare's IT group implemented new corporate policies and standardized on mobile management technologies that opened doors for the iPhone, and now the iPad, to be used in the enterprise in a secure, centrally managed fashion.

Based on his prior experience with the iPhone, Escue was well aware that users, not the IT department, are rapidly becoming the driving force behind new technology adoption -- a trend that has come to be known as the consumerization of IT.

"There was a time when work was where you got new technology, but that day is over, thanks to unbounded innovation in the consumer technology world," says Escue, who heads up technology efforts for RehabCare, which has operations nationwide.

With the recent introduction of the iPad 2, the Motorola Xoom and the RIM PlayBook, and new versions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, tablets are taking the enterprise by storm.

Gartner estimates that 69.8 million media tablets will be shipped in 2011, and analysts and forward-thinking tech managers say it's time for IT to do more than simply take note of that surge.

As with the iPhone before it, the iPad is cropping up in all corners of the enterprise, brought in by C-level execs, sales folks and people who purchased the devices for personal use and, now hooked, are hungry to use them on the job.

Regardless of whether staffers use their own tablets or company-issued models, the influx means IT needs a systematic approach for managing, tracking, securing and supporting these devices.

"What the iPhone started to show us -- and the iPad is absolutely making clear -- is that these devices are coming in whether you like it or not," says Leslie Fiering, a Gartner analyst. "That means that IT has its work cut out for it."

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