Apple's iPad finds a place in the enterprise

The iPad is emerging as a tool for many enterprise users

Apple's iPad is easily the IT product of the year -- it's reshaped the computing landscape for consumers and opened new opportunities for media companies hoping to get readers, viewers, and gamers to pay for their content. But will it have an equivalent impact on enterprise IT, beyond its current status of must-have gadget for the up-to-the-minute executive?

Based on interviews with early adopters and enterprises evaluating the tablet, the iPad is emerging as a tool for many enterprise users to access e-mail, calendar and corporate documents, helped by the quality of the screen, the long battery life, weight and ease-of-use.

Steve Shantz, CIO at Trans World Radio (TWR), was bitten by the iPad bug while observing a fellow visitor at a conference, and praises its battery life.

"Long battery life is a killer feature for me. I spend a lot of time on international flights and being able to work for 10 or 11 hours is a huge benefit," said Shantz.

For some users the size of the iPad is also a perfect fit: "Our users are anywhere but at their desks, for them laptops are too cumbersome and the screens on smartphones are too small," said Peter Larsson , CIO at Skistar, which operates ski resorts in Norway and Sweden.

One problem is that it can't be used at low temperatures, but that is a problem for all touchscreens, according to Larsson.

IT executives interviewed agree that the iPad isn't for everyone, but is very well suited for users that consume more content than they produce -- for example, e-mail and corporate documents.

Early on, Nasdaq OMX became involved in developing software for the iPad. The company was invited by Apple to develop an application for the launch. It developed an iPad version of QFolio, which allows users to follow the ups and downs of the stock market. After that, it was a natural step for Nasdaq OMX to take a look at how it could use the iPad internally, according to Carl-Magnus Hallberg, senior vice president in charge of Global IT Services Operations.

While testing the tablet, Hallberg came to the conclusion that the iPad, in addition to managing e-mail and reading documents, is perfect for taking down notes at meetings, and stopped using paper notepads. You can then use any of the available applications to boil down the notes to a to-do-list, which is what you usually want to do after a meeting, he said.

Hallberg isn't the only one who has seen how the iPad can help cut down on paper in the office. Karl Ageberg, CIO at Lund University, says that instead of printing hundreds of pages before every meeting, university board members can all look at the necessary documents on their iPad. Use it that way and you will soon have saved the cost of buying the iPad, he says.

But the iPad isn't just for reading e-mail and taking down notes. In Danish furniture retailer Bolia's stores, the big advantage of using the iPad is that shop assistants are no longer tied to stationary computers. For example, buying a sofa is a complicated process. With the iPad in hand, the assistants don't have to go back to a computer every time the customer has a question about, for example, the cost of a certain fabric. However, the lack of Flash support on the iPad means that assistants can't use Bolia's modelling software to show customers what the sofa would look like in a living room as they would be able to from their desktop PCs with Flash.

Prior to Bolia starting to use iPads in its stores, the company was nervous about the potential cost if they were stolen, dropped or broken. However, that hasn't turned out to be an issue, according to managing director Lars Lyse Hansen. To minimize the risk of iPads being stolen, the company is developing a shoulder bag in which the employees can carry the device while not helping customers, Hansen said.

While the iPad may not have mobile phone functionality built-in, that doesn't mean it can't be used as a phone. TWR has recently installed the Asterisk open source PBX system at its offices in Cary, North Carolina, and Vienna. So when Shantz was at home one morning and saw a voice message in his e-mail from the Vienna office, he turned on the iPad, launched the VPN to the corporate network and the Bria VoIP softphone application, dialed 4 digits and was talking to Vienna on the iPad.

To make the iPad an efficient enterprise tool, the tablet has to be integrated with Windows and Microsoft's other server products, including Sharepoint. TWR is using SharePlus Pro from South Labs for Sharepoint document connectivity, according to Shantz.

Another way to integrate the iPad with the company Windows environment is to use a remote or virtual desktop, which displays the Windows desktop on the iPad. Nasdaq OMX is using software from Citrix and TWR is using the Jump Desktop to do this, but not everyone is convinced it's a good idea. When you start using Windows on your iPad you lose one of the product's main advantages, its ease of use, Ageberg said.

Just like PCs, laptops and smartphones, iPads have to be managed and secured. Nasdaq OMX has found a management platform that will let the IT department control the tablet, including tracking which applications users have installed, according to Hallberg. For security reasons, he isn't willing to divulge which one.

Medical equipment company Medtronic is rolling out software that will control what content goes on the devices, so that it can ensure security and compliance with regulations, according to CIO Michael Hedges.

Enterprise adoption of the iPad is part of a larger trend in which companies are allowing employees to choose which laptop, smartphone or tablet they want to use, irrespective of the operating system. The negative consequences of not allowing users to choose the products they want to use themselves simply isn't worth it, according to Ageberg.

That movement will also open the door to competing products. The iPad has started to see competition from a growing number of Android-based tablets and products based on other platforms, including Research In Motion's upcoming PlayBook.

Medtronic will be device agnostic and use what's best for the company, Hedges said.

"As long as we can manage the Android-based tablets, we are open to allowing employees to use them as well," said Hallberg.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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