The use of Apple's iPad is no longer the territory of only forward-thinking, innovative companies. Instead, it's taking up residence in the technical arsenals of businesses of all kinds and sizes, according to Forrester Research.
The iPad is finding many new places in modern business.
Displacing laptops — While it will be some time before iPads do away with laptops, they have already proved their value in meeting rooms, on the go, and as personal devices.
Replacing clipboards and other paper — Construction managers using an application by Vela Systems can now carry an iPad instead of a tube full of construction drawings. It also applies to clinical testing in the pharmaceutical industry, facilities inspections by quality assurance pros, and insurance brokers writing business out in the field.
Accessing information — Doctors using iPads can write orders in surgery or access patient records in the examination room.
Customization — Retail floor personnel are able to customize an order for a new Mercedes or a summer wardrobe.
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"The ship has sailed on the iPad," said Ted Schadler, Forrester vice president and principal analyst. "One pharmaceutical company I talked to said they were planning to deploy 10,000 iPads a year to salespeople."
General Electric has distributed approximately 2,000 iPads internally and has developed a number of applications for its employees and its customers. Life Technologies, a company that manufactures products for the biotechnology industry, has deployed iPads to approximately 600 executives and salespeople.
"The biggest driver is sales productivity,” Schadler said. "An iPad is a great way to show a client an application, a website, a video or a presentation. It's an incredibly convenient device. It has all-day battery life, instant on, and it’s always connected. So if you’re an executive trying to stay in touch during a meeting because you’re never at your desk, it’s a great tool."
Schadler said another big driver in the use of iPads in the enterprise is that it offers real-time decision-making or real-time business intelligence (BI).
"People can stay connected and be productive from anywhere," he said. "It’s like a laptop on steroids. The thing that’s driving that is that there are more applications for web conferencing. For example, Cisco WebEx and Citrix Go To Meeting are available on the iPad as are productivity tools, not Microsoft Office but Docs To Go and Quick Office. There are browser-based apps like employee portals and BI. And Roambi.com does data dashboards for the iPad."
Steve Romeo, vice president of information technology at Breg, a provider of sports medicine products and services for orthopedic patient care, said he has incorporated the iPad platform into Breg IT in a couple of ways.
"From the internal side, I’m using the iPad 2 now in the field with our sales force to give them access to email, CRM tools and business intelligence," he said. "I’m finding that our direct representatives in the field are a lot more efficient by having that always-connected model in the field. Not to mention that I’m also empowering them with Skype as well on the iPad and giving them video connectivity in the field."
Romeo said it’s been a huge advantage for his mobile sales force.
"Let's say we're giving a presentation for a potential customer and we need additional expertise that we don’t have onsite at the time, we can video conference someone in on the iPad," he said. "So the iPad 2 with the video capability is a huge win in disseminating information for a potential sale.”
Romeo said Breg has even introduced an iPad application called Orthofind, an online catalog of all the company’s products that also incorporates video. Breg's salespeople use the application in the field to sell its products as well as to inform its customers about how the products work.
"On the external [side], most of our customers that use our vision software really demand mobility,” he said. “They already own iPads and they wanted to see a flexible platform where they can walk from clinic to clinic, and actually do business transactions on an iPad. So we’ve released our software on the iPad for that very purpose. By doing so, we’re not only getting a strategic advantage in the marketplace, we’re also fulfilling the requirement of our customers, which is having a highly mobile, automated system in their orthopedic practices."
However, there are some downsides to using iPads in the field, one of which is the potential for them to be stolen. From a business security leak perspective that’s a big concern, Romeo said.
"It's a very attractive device, and they can just disappear, and obviously security is always a concern," he said. "We're working with various software companies to secure our devices by providing a remote-kill solution. So if they disappear, we can remotely shut them down."
For companies thinking about deploying iPads in the enterprise, Romeo’s advice is to develop an internal team to test the device and the software. Then find teams internally that can agree on what applications should be used and shared in the field.
"You should determine what the expectations are for the device," he said. "Don’t run out and buy a 1,000 iPads and assume that they’re just going to work. Buy a couple, have a pilot team get aligned around what they want to do with it, and then purchase more and dispense from there. Don’t make assumptions."