From speaking to many CIOs and IT leaders, one of the biggest decisions currently on their minds is determining the role of tablets in their organisations.
While concerns around virtualisation and the cloud are occupying them in the medium-long term, tablets are becoming a much more immediate priority and are transforming the way businesses interact with their customers, suppliers and peers.
Ever since the launch of the iPad, senior management have brought personal iPads in to work and insisted their IT departments connect them to the corporate network.
This growing trend from personal to professional usage is reflecting changing tablet trends. As a result, many companies are now thinking about moving beyond Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) pilot programs to consider broad deployment.
Gartner analysts have said enterprise sales of media tablets will account for about 35% of total tablet sales sold in 2015, but these will not be clearly defined as enterprise purchases and more of these tablets will be owned by consumers who use them at work.
To take the pulse of the market, we recently conducted a survey of IT managers and found 47% of businesses currently use tablets in one way or another. The top four tasks for tablets are all related to information consumption: checking email at 79%, viewing documents at 68%, web browsing at 58% and showing presentations at 50%.
Some 44% of the surveyed managers believe it is very likely or extremely likely that tablets will replace laptops for many of their users within the next five years.
We see the future of iPads and tablets in the enterprise becoming the primary computing platform for specific verticals and functions such as sales and healthcare teams, knowledge workers and in education.
This change is not a 'winner-takes-all' battle against the PC though. Instead, tablets will increasingly replace paper-based processes and it's likely there will be a hybrid model of tablets and PCs depending on levels of employees and their job function.
Whilst sales teams will be early adopters of tablets, they'll still have a need for content creation work. In this case, the tablet will become the mobile tool rather than the laptop and a thin client or desktop PC will remain back at the office.
So why haven't tablets already been deployed further? CIOs have a plethora of challenges to consider around tablet deployment including the security ecosystem of tablets, mobile and compatibility device management. Also there are user pain points to overcome such as the on-screen keyboard and lack of USB ports.
For IT leaders to take advantage of tablets and widely deploy them in the organisation, there are several factors to consider:
Move from BYOD to enterprise deployment
Unlike smartphones, which are purely for information consumption and light-duty work, tablets will be taking on mission-critical productivity tasks. These tasks require a consistent user experience, reliable management and robust security across all devices - goals that aren't achievable with BYOD policies.
A piecemeal BYOD policy can't deliver the levels of security and compatibility with office applications required for large scale enterprise deployment. Indeed, a recent Gartner survey of CIOs says they expect only 20 per cent of mobile devices used for business purposes in 2012 will be owned by employees.
Identify jobs and processes that are appropriate to shift from PCs to tablets
Whilst sales and field service teams are an obvious first choice for tablets, businesses should look more widely within the business to establish where tablets can improve productivity and replace paper-based processes.
For example, using tablets for recording data instead of paper forms can reduce the number of steps between recording data and entering it in a database. On the flip side, tablets don't offer much value for workers who need to run sophisticated software on a large screen, such as accounting, engineering, graphic design and customer service teams.
Remove the pain points
What many people don't realise, especially when using a tablet in a non-work situation, is that many tablets have a "user interface gap", due to the lack of a physical keyboard and precision pointing devices such as a mouse or stylus.
Providing appropriate peripherals such as external keyboards and headsets or wireless speakers can increase workplace productivity by expanding both usage and the range of tablet tasks. Among end users surveyed by Logitech, 61% said having a physical keyboard increased their tablet usage at work.
Combining these three factors creates the return on investment (ROI) to justify large scale tablet deployment. To justify the cost, CIOs will have to work closely with heads of business units to provide the ROI data and prove the link between tablet adoption and increased productivity and results.
Ultimately, tablets will displace some PCs in the enterprise and eliminate almost all paper-based processes, while increasing employee satisfaction and workplace productivity. The tablet opportunity is real and the time to get started is now.
Eric Kintz is the vice-president and general manager of Logitech for Business.