There has been a lot of discussion about the need for organizations to adopt tablet devices (e.g., iPad, Android-based, PlayBook) to enable their employees to communicate via email, participate in mobile conferencing, and to access, view, and interact with corporate data via reports, dashboards, and other functionality while on the go. Cutter Consortium conducted a survey in 2012 that polled 69 end-user organizations about their mobile technology practices and adoption plans, including the use of smartphones and tablets and issues associated with the development, deployment, and support of mobile devices and end users. According to the survey, almost half of organizations surveyed currently view the use of tablets as a strategic priority to have, while others foresee tablets becoming a strategic imperative starting sometime next year or in 2014.
Figure 1 shows how survey participants responded when asked how their organizations viewed the importance of tablets. As a follow-up, I asked the respondents who had answered “No, not at this time” to this question when they thought that tablets might become a strategic priority for their organizations. Some of these respondents said that they see tablets as beginning to take on strategic significance for their organizations sometime in 2013. The majority of these holdouts, however, said that tablet usage for their organizations would not gain strategic significance until 2014 (keep in mind that our survey was conducted during the last quarter of 2012). Taken together, I suggest that our findings indicate that over the next 12-18 months or so we can expect to see more organizations place an increasing emphasis on supporting employees with tablets (either by giving them company-provided devices or via the BYOD strategy).
Where Organizations Are Using Tablets
The main domains and applications in which organizations are using or plan to use tablets (in order of popularity/importance) include:
1. Executive/management — to facilitate mobile communications and to support dashboards and other tools for measuring and managing product/company performance and the like.
2. Sales, service, and support (i.e., CRM) — these are the main customer-facing domains and they tend to be very time sensitive, thus demanding rapid responses to issues that can fairly quickly impact the bottom line as well as customer service and satisfaction. Consequently, they are a natural for applying tablets for such applications as keeping tabs on contact center operations or online activities like marketing and new product launches. In particular, clients I’ve been interacting with inform me that they plan to increasingly roll out tablet applications to support their distributed mobile workforces. This includes field service technicians and outside sales reps as well as managers and others required to visit different locations — such as in order to assess performance of stores, sales and marketing campaigns, employees, and so on.
3. BI is now used to support almost all areas of the enterprise today (including executive/management and the CRM areas just mentioned). Consequently, it’s no surprise that BI ranks just behind these other domains when it comes to areas that organizations say they want to support via the use of tablets. In particular, the use of tablet-based apps designed to provide upper-level business tools — typically integrated with balanced scorecards, dashboards, reporting and analysis, and various performance management tools — are already experiencing considerable use. This is because organizations have been extending their existing BI applications by adding mobile capabilities over the last several years. I also see tablets becoming very popular when used in conjunction with BI apps and enterprise social networks to facilitate greater collaboration and knowledge sharing throughout the organization. In fact, I think the use of mobile (in particular tablets because of their greater screen size and processing power compared to smartphones) in conjunction with BI and enterprise social networks is going to lead to a much greater focus on knowledge management over the next few years. In general, expect the use of tablets to facilitate and enhance mobile BI across a broad range of applications and domains to accelerate dramatically in 2013.
4. HR/workforce management could also be considered as falling under the operational support category. Again, I think that this is a natural area for using tablets. In addition to helping managers better perform their basic HR administration and management job tasks while on the go, I see tablets as being useful for facilitating employee training and education — especially when it comes to the use of videos and interactive publications and other mobile apps that can be easily viewed by employees on tablets and other mobile devices as well as readily updated by management and other stakeholders. Indeed, several clients have indicated that their organizations are using tablet-based apps to provide employees with instructional aids on everything from basic employee rules and procedures handbooks to dynamic training aids for specific jobs or activities.
Other areas we can expect to see organizations apply mobile technology — especially tablets — is to support their supply chain activities and transportation and logistics operations. As I’ve said before, the built-in GPS, scanners, cameras, and other location-based features of today’s tablets make them well suited for mobile applications — such as conducting inventory in the field, warehouse, or plant, and for tasks related to tracking and scheduling parts, equipment, and servicing (click here to see how American Airlines is outfitting its flight attendants and other airline personnel with tablets). The bottom line is that almost half of organizations currently view tablets as strategically important, and our research indicates that we can expect to see more and more organizations take to this viewpoint over the next 12 months or so.