iPads run amok: Does your company need a tablet policy?

With tablet mania in full swing, should IT take charge, back off or strike a middle course in trying to control everyone's new favorite gadget?

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At Conceptus, a medical device manufacturer, IT has taken an active role in tackling such questions. The company isn't supporting employee-owned devices, but rather has purchased more than 250 iPads for its executive staff and the field salesforce to access customer relationship management and marketing support applications.

The company has also modified its usage policies to allow users to put personal apps on the devices -- with the understanding that they might have to be remotely wiped in certain circumstances and that they can't become so laden with content that they become inoperable for corporate uses.

In addition, Conceptus has developed its own enterprise app store to distribute internal apps so that it doesn't have to worry about serving up proprietary programs in a public forum, according to Jeff Letasse, Conceptus' CIO. Currently, the internal app store serves up about five apps, including an in-house sales and marketing tool, and Letasse is hoping that number will quickly grow.

Even with IT's involvement, there are still gray areas where users are in the driver's seat. Take upgrades, for example. Instead of having Letasse's group orchestrate an operating system upgrade over a period of months, as it would with PCs and laptops, iPad users can upgrade iOS at their leisure without enlisting IT and without giving the group a chance to test the new technology with enterprise systems.

"We in the support world are trying to grapple with a loss of control," says Eric Simmons, Conceptus' director of IT operations and ERP solutions. "Users can upgrade an app or the operating system without us, and that makes us have to [better] manage testing and make our support mechanisms better."

While the team is still hammering out its processes, it stays on top of upgrades by using an MDM platform from Zenprise. When the company needed to push out a recent upgrade to its Experience Essure sales and marketing app, Zenprise fed live data about who had upgraded to Conceptus' data warehouse; from there, managers could check to ensure that their employees were using the right version.

The IT group is also making a concerted effort to communicate with users more frequently, and has instituted programs like an "app tip of the week" email newsletter to help guide users.

Solving support issues

While the iPad and other tablets may be relatively easy to use, experienced tech managers say IT should still come up with a formal training program to orient users to the utility of new devices and acquaint them with any new usage policies and application delivery mechanisms.

Software giant SAP has rolled out 3,500 corporate-issued iPads across finance, executive management, sales, marketing, and service functions. At SAP, Web 2.0 technologies like wikis and other self-service support functions are playing a key role in acclimating users and in keeping the support burden down for the IT help desk, according to Oliver Bussmann, SAP's CIO.

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