Tablet Time in the Workplace

So far I have kept my own council on tablets, but in the last three months or so, I have noticed the spread of tablet usage out of the home and into the briefcase. Despite lots of sceptical commentators asking ‘who NEEDS a tablet,’ the tablet computer is moving out of content consumption and into the work-place.

Several acquaintances are now ‘tooled up’ with tablets in the construction industry, with schedules, QS, catalogues and drawings accessible in the hand. Permanent connectivity to applications and data in the cloud is beginning to permeate all manner of businesses…

Amid all the glossy TV ads in the consumer space, we may have missed the breadth of applications which the tablet might host for the walk-about worker.

  1. ‘Cash’ registers for point of sale
  2. Construction site and real-estate surveyors’ data capture
  3. Workshop manuals –
    – vehicle mechanics
    – airline manuals for flight crew
  4. E-book replacements for text books
  5. Medical directories, drug listings, contra-indications, patient records access
  6. Warehouse inventory management

Essential to this new way of working is the prevalence of wifi and 3G networking. Data is held in the cloud, and is accessed either via wifi or 3G. If you are on your own premises, a connected site, or in a decent reception area for 3G, there’s no reason not to carry a Tab’.

Of course, we haven’t entirely solved the issues with tablets in everyday use. The majority of professional applications either can’t (for connectivity issues) or shouldn’t (for data security issues) be used offline. Even if the architecture of the application allows, loss and theft the device with data should be the number one concern. Most businesses appear to have recognised the security implications; basic precautions including password protection, whole disk encryption, encrypted private wifi (avoiding public hot spots) and enterprise versions of cloud services such as Dropbox with built-in protection.

And it’s not something you want to use for a any data entry beyond updating prices, measurements or availability. Enter an order from a conventional catalog of drop-lists, confirm the sale and print the invoice. End-of. I really don’t want my doctor updating my patient records on the move around the wards. But a tablet is so much more portable, not to mention usable one-handed, than a netbook. This really is the ‘use anywhere’ device.

With tablets starting from $500, compared to a conventional PC-based cash register starting from $2000, so it’s also much cheaper in many uses.

Add to this the enticement of tablets using phone-like operating systems, you can get many more non-technical users to pick up and engage with a tablet, a gee-wiz cross between a notepad and a book, in a way that the conventional PC cannot.

Market estimates vary, but with tablets shipping in the millions and upwards of 25% going to business based on the current year, I can see a huge expansion of tablets in the workplace. The manufacturer that cracks the tablet docking-station may do even better. AJS

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