How to use an iPad in business. Right now!

The iPad, one of the most imaginary mobile hardware devices of the last decennium. Long before the iPad was introduced people speculated about its features. More than 600,000 iPads were being pre-ordered by people who had never seen an iPad in real life (such as myself). The dust never settled and recently Apple announced to have sold 3,000,000 in just 80 days. With the European launch now in full process the production of the device has been ramped up to 1.2 million per month.

The iPad clearly went mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is estimated that about 1 million people in the Netherlands are planning to buy an iPad. Comfortably positioned between a mobile phone and a laptop only the future will know which place this new device will hold in the digital ecosystem of the modern consumer and business person. It is indeed amazing that the mobile landscape drastically changed in only 3 months time (April – July)

In my view, four reasons account for the success of the iPad (in random order):

  • The lean mean marketing machine of Apple, being able to enormously hype this product
  • The design of the device
  • The intuitive User Interface (touch)
  • The App Store

Especially the latter significantly boosts the value creation of the iPad. With more than 200,000 iPhone apps running natively on the iPad and more than 15,000 native iPad applications ‘App development’ became one of the fastest growing industries in the digital era. The Operating System (iOS) on which Apps are based can be used for development on the iPad, as well as the iPhone and the iPod touch. It is expected that this year 100 million iOS devices will be on the market.

The App Store hosts a variety of categories, of which ‘Medical’ is one. This category, although small in number (91 medical apps for iPad, as per June – data Distimo) is certainly a financially interesting category. Data show that the average price of a medical app is about $42 (Distimo, June 2010), the highest pricing in the app store. Obviously it is unknown how successful these apps are, but the fact that touch-based computers (Windows-based tablet PCs) are well introduced in the medical world might indicate that this segment will embrace the iPad much more easily. Experts (Zachary, 2010) indicate that three segments currently have the biggest potential for adopting the iPad: Education, Healthcare and Enterprise.

We get a lot of questions from companies which gained interest in the iPad as business tool. The main question is: “I can see the future, but what can I do right now with the iPad to help improving the productivity of our employees, thereby not upsetting my entire IT department by introducing an ‘unknown’ device”? From a business point of view the iPads are pretty cheap, so usually investment in the hardware isn’t the issue. Main challenge is -as always- the content.

In this report it is explained how the iPad can be used as a viable business tool to boost productivity for companies who are open for the use of it, and the tactics to implement iPads in the workflow.

The iPad in six different Activity Groups
A tablet computer such as the iPad has a tremendous potential to replace current laptops in the sales force. Not only the light weight of the devices and the duration of the batteries (10 hours), but also the functionality of the iPad could give rise to a new use of mobile devices. Currently the main functionalities used on a sales rep’s laptop are:

  • E-mail
  • Internet
  • CRM system
  • Word processing
  • Excel use
  • Producing and giving presentations

To enable a constant workflow the laptop should be connected to the network at various intervals either wireless of via a cable.

Although all the above functionalities can be covered by the iPad, it is -after several weeks of usage- my opinion that the iPad is not yet ready to replace the laptop entirely. Especially in a Windows-dominated environment the biggest hurdle is the exchange between Office documents and documents created with the office apps from Apple (Pages, Numbers, Keynote). Moreover, there is no file structure, hence browsing through different folders is not possible. Most companies are not yet ready to transfer all our files to the cloud, which would make life simpler.

But that doesn’t mean there is no business case for the iPad. On the contrary.

The current incarnation of the iPad can be used in any organization in six Activity Groups (see figure). With the constant addition of functionalities over time, these Activity Groups can be further extended. As for now, these six groups will be handled by the iPad just fine.

Be aware that currently the iPad is not supported by most IT-organizations. This means that only functionalities can be used that do not require connection to the network. All functionalities that are either offline or receive data through an independent cloud service can be used. An exception to this is e-mail. Apparently iPhone users report perfect e-mail functionality due to the integration of Microsoft Exchange. IT departments often don’t know that the data is going to an iOS device. While I’m not supporting nonconformism to the company rules here, it is a fact that many iOS devices (iPhones in particular) enter companies ‘through the back door’. This is a serious issue for companies since company data can be compromised if not dealt with properly. Usually IT departments take a firm stand point by stating that these devices are not allowed. However, modern knowledge workers do not accept this attitude anymore and it’s time for IT to start thinking pro-actively and seek for opportunities, rather than threats.

Anyway, back to the six Activity Groups.

In the following paragraphs, each Activity Group will be explained briefly.

Activity Group 1: E-mail and agenda
The iOS installed on the iPad can handle communication through the Microsoft Exchange Server, which is commonly used in coorporations. To enable this on any device, a simple username and password will suffice. The only requirement is that the user should have the status ‘Smartphone User’ within Outlook Exchange, thus being able to receive and send e-mails through a mobile device. In the past usually only higher management got this privilege, but nowadays more and more also mere mortals are able to get this status.

The e-mail and agenda is being handled through the mail- and agenda client on the iPad. Since these programs are not Microsoft related but built by Apple, they do not resemble to familiar ‘Outlook look and feel’. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the user to decide, but in general e-mail and agenda clients are pretty straightforward.

The added value of accessing your e-mail and agenda through the iPad is without a doubt one of the most requested features of a mobile worker. Being able to access your e-mail on the fly, not only on an iPad but also on a smartphone will increase ROI of sales reps by 30-40% within 6 months of implementation, according to research.

Activity Group 2: Cloud-based platforms
Many Internal Social Collaboration Platforms are purely cloud-based, meaning that it is easily accessible through an iPad. All functionalities (except video which is Flash-based, although that will be solved in the near future) are available through the browser on the iPad (ideas, blog, wiki). Moreover, many vendors of cloud software have already an iPhone app available which will run on the iPad as well. If not,an iPad version is under construction.

People can access company information on any given time on any given place. They can collaborate on projects and create content as they go.

Activity Group 3: Product and Service Presentations
The iPad is the tool pur sang for giving one-to-one or one-to-few presentations. The build-in presentation software (Keynote) can handle a variety of presentations (though they must be converted from PowerPoint to Keynote). The real benefit lies in the interactivity one can achieve using the touch screen. the iPad can be used as an alternative to a paper sales aid, providing a more immersive experience for the viewer. Existing brochures can be transformed to digital versions and included with audio, video and animation. Going a step further, using a dynamic agenda enables the sales rep to tailor-made his/her story to the needs of the customer. Often those needs are discovered during a sales call and adapting the visual representation of the call is no doubt valuable for the success of the call.

One can make nice presentations with Keynote, but a more professional approach can currently only be achieved through expensive third-party involvement. For example, Time Magazine makes use of software designed by WoodWing. A complete package to design one magazine will costs around EUR 30,000 (software, hosting, licenses).

Another example of such an interactive magazine is Wired. Through a plug-in for standard design software (InDesign) this magazine is highly interactive and makes use of a variety of multimedia features (video, audio). The plug-in software, however, is not yet available to the public and as of yet it is unknown which business model will be chosen. It is expected that this software will become available end of this summer.

Activity Group 4: Business Intel
Several Apps provide the functionality to consolidate data and display the information in an easy to understand way. Sales, market shares, and similar business intrinsic data crucial to understand the development of the products and services can be accessed on the iPad. For example, at the moment of writing there is an App available which links directly to the sales data in for example a SAP system. Using this App, consolidated data can be presented in simple tables and graphs. There are more apps providing this functionality (i.e. Roambi) so that it needs to be evaluated which app fits our requirements best. In addition to internal data, the iPad can also be used for external business information. For that, and RSS reader can be used (see next point).

Activity Group 5: News Reader
One of the main activities the iPad is used for is news gathering The sheer availability of RSS readers on the App Store is a silent witness of the desire to consume news anywhere and anyplace. In most market segments there are online news sites dealing with subjects related to that segment and important to know. Usually these news sites have RSS feeds that can easily be incorporated into an RSS reader, thus providing the possibility to make news gathering much more efficient. In addition, sharing of this information is equally simple so that ‘cross-fertilization’ of information is stimulated.

Activity Group 6: Apps
It is difficult to write a paragraph about Apps if there are 200,000 iPhone Apps and more than 15,000 iPad Apps are available. Where to start? In 20 categories one can find Apps related to health, fun games, productivity, social networking, and all in-between. Apparently there is no limit to the imagination of developers and chances are that if you think about an App, somebody has already built it (or is building it as we speak). First and foremost the iPad must be considered as a productivity and presentation tool. Apps related to these categories must be sought and tried first. Some Apps are free and some are paid, making a clear policy on this important (although prices are usually a few Euros so financial risk is minimal). Test users should be given the possibility to experiment with Apps, enabling us to get a clear insight into the pros and cons of these Apps.

Closing remarks
Improving the productivity of the employees is a multi-facetted approach. Discipline, the right employees, training and coaching are imperative for an effective way of working. I do not underestimate these areas for improvement and companies should try hard to organize ourselves in this respect. My intention in this blog post was to describe the role certain technologies can play in this area. And that technologies play a significant role in a modern employee goes without a doubt.

My personal experience learns that, once understanding these new technologies, a significant step can be made towards professional (and personal) effectiveness. Technology should follow people and not vice versa. As stated in the Groundswell (Forrester Research, 2009), the introduction of new technologies should follow the POST-principle: First People, followed by the Objectives and Strategy and only then choosing the Technology.

Great companies know how to strike a balance between the use of technology and the motivation of people. It is that balance we need to seek. The technology plays a facilitating, though crucial role in connecting our employees to each other, the customer and the right information at the right time to make informed decisions. One might say that embracing tools like the iPad today is a waste of time due to the infancy of the technology. Yes, one can even wait till the technology is matured. However, one must not forget that tomorrow’s possibilities will be based on today’s initiatives and infrastructure. Time to move on…

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