Investing in new technology can mean huge gains in efficiency and productivity, as businesses discovered when they moved their mobile workforce to laptops and smartphones. So what about tablets? Are they really a business tool, rather than just a shiny toy? And why would you need one as well as a laptop and a smartphone?
There are a number of compelling arguments for businesses to buy these new devices for their mobile workforce. Here are a few considerations.
How mobile is your workforce?
The major advantage of a tablet is its ultra portability. No laptop, not even a netbook, can compare in terms of lightness and convenience. So a tablet might be worth it if workers are genuinely out on the road and have an urgent need for quick access to the Internet or company files.
If the employee is just working from home or on the daily commute, however, then a tablet is going to be overkill and an ultra-portable laptop might be a better choice. And remember that a tablet is not really an input device. If the worker needs a full mobile office that allows them to create and edit documents, and syncs with their office-based workflow, a tablet's not going to be fully up to the job.
Do your workers need speed?
Are your workers moving at a pace when out on the road — maybe needing to send messages quickly or access video or upload files to the Internet? A tablet with its instant-on button and ability to be held in one hand is a much quicker and more convenient device than a laptop, which needs to power up and load its cumbersome operating system, and then be operated from a desk, table or knee.
Do they need to present and share?
When a worker is sharing information with a customer or colleague, a PC presents a problem. It's not easy to read information from someone else's computer screen — even a laptop screen — so the worker is often left with the option of using printouts or attaching a laptop to a projector or screen.
A tablet solves this problem instantly for small, intimate meetings. A salesperson could, for example, show spreadsheets, video, presentations or images via a tablet — great for pitches and meetings. Documents can be easily uploaded to the tablet via USB (if the tablet has a USB port) or via access to cloud services such as Dropbox® or Google Docs. Don't expect, however, that the tablet will be able to carry a lot of large multimedia files in its relatively limited storage. A good way around this is to purchase an app that can stream applications and files from a laptop to the tablet.
Do they need real-time information?
Certain jobs require professionals to have quick access to data such as share prices and news, or to be able to receive and access information quickly from colleagues back in the office. A tablet is well suited to this, with easy Internet access and the ability via certain apps to stream news and social media feeds. A work email account can also be synced to most tablets, making keeping up with colleagues easy.
IT managers are used to the headache of dealing with mobile devices but tablets can present a whole new problem. The worker may well want to choose their own model, leaving businesses with a plethora of different sorts of tablets to sync and secure. One way around this is to let the worker use and maintain whichever tablet they want but make sure documents on the company system — and access to them — is always secure.
Make sure you're compatible
Managers should also advise workers to choose the tablet that works best with whichever system is being used in the office. For example, if office communications are based on Microsoft® Exchange, then the employee should choose a tablet that has the ability to sync with Microsoft Exchange. If documents are usually created in Microsoft Office applications — again the worker should choose a tablet that has the ability to handle those documents.