In-house 'app stores' ease tablet-management woes

Although this level of control isn't for everyone, it does help keep a lid on chaos and support woes

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Approximately 6% of the devices used on the college's network are tablets or handhelds and are owned by students. Most of them are iPads, with less than a dozen iPod Touches or Android devices. He has no way of knowing how many apps each tablet has on it.

"As the CIO of an educational institution dedicated to innovation, I must support faculty and students with just about any and all use cases that are presented," Thirsk says.

Schumacher Group, a Lafayette, La., company that provides emergency-room management services to hospitals across the United States, also gives users latitude in selecting applications for tablets. The company recently launched a tablet pilot program and has about 35 iPad devices deployed so far, says CIO Doug Menefee. Schumacher Group allows individuals to deploy and manage their applications.

"I'm a big believer in not trying to control the user population," Menefee says. "I feel that by putting too much control on users, you don't get them exposed to other user interfaces and other solutions. I like it when users come to us with a businesses problem and say, 'If it just acted like X app, then that would meet my needs.' "

IT works with users to decide whether particular applications will meet their needs and, if they will, procures the apps. "We are very much a 'buy before we build' type of company," Menefee says. "This way, we benefit from future upgrades."

The tablet-app costs for IT

No matter which tablet-app model is used, the costs can add up for IT. Morris School District's McDade says the process of evaluating tablet applications, buying them and then loading them onto devices is "tremendously labor-intensive." For a recent project, it took one of his technicians three days to load an app on five iPads, from start to finish.

To help mitigate these costs, McDade says that whenever possible, the district tries to take advantage of any volume discounts offered by Apple or other app stores. To that end, IT and content supervisors as well as faculty representatives have regular meetings to discuss possible applications to purchase.

"It requires a lot of communication, so at least people are aware of what's going on" with tablet applications, McDade says. "We put out [on Google Docs] a list of hot applications that are being used."

Marist's Thirsk says another downside of the freedom strategy is the seemingly endless appearance of new apps and devices. "But this is the nature of our business, and in order for our faculty to continuously prepare our students, and for our students to learn to use and take advantage of technology, it is necessary," he says.

To write, or not to write?

Another issue with tablet software is new application development. Some enterprises are developing, or will be developing, custom tablet applications internally, as well as waiting for key vendors to create mobile applications.

Doug Menefee
"I'm a big believer in not trying to control the user population," says Doug Menefee, CIO of the Schumacher Group.

Menefee says Schumacher Group is encouraging its software vendors to deploy mobile applications and is also investing in internal development. It has trained several developers to build apps for the devices.

For example, the company created an internal application, now deployed on every iPad in the company, which aggregates data from on a Google Map. It serves as a communication aide for recruiters who are meeting with physicians. "The recruiter can quickly show the physician which hospitals are available to work at, have immediate access to the profile of the hospital, and fill out a quick form which emails the physician details of the hospital for future follow-up," Menefee says.

"I went into 2011 telling the IT team that everything they do needs to be considered for a mobility solution," he adds.

For his part, VanOsch says Imris first searches for public applications that might meet the company's needs. If nothing suitable exists, Imris weighs the cost vs. benefit of developing apps in-house. "For company-specific functionality, our plan is to develop internal resources to build the apps in-house," VanOsch says. Since deploying iPads in November 2010, the company has delivered 16 tablet applications for its business, 15 of which were internally developed.

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