Shifting IT delivery to tablets: The strategic issues

Shifting IT delivery to tablets: The strategic issues

Summary: Tablets are likely to become the primary computing experience for workers over the next few years. What will it take to successfully shift IT delivery to these devices given the security worries, legacy IT landscape, BYOD, and other issues?

TOPICS: Tablets

To access the real competitive advantage of the next-generation of end-user computing will require rethinking how tablets and their innate new capabilities can be used to transform business processes. A few weeks ago the IT analyst firm Forrester made what is probably the first major declaration that tablets will soon become the primary computing device for most users, even going so far as to say that they will 'rule' personal computing in the near future. While I think the numbers speak for themselves on this, I also believe that many organizations are either unready or unwilling to hear this yet.

Part of the reason for this avoidance is because of the substantial overhaul it will require IT departments to undergo, and major change is invariably painful and difficult. This retooling includes the full gamut of IT responsibilities: Infrastructure, architecture, processes, tools, skills, and governance, right when so many companies are also dealing with many other generational IT disruptions.

Another reason for unpreparedness is that the tablet revolution has largely become a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. This has started to displace IT as the primary middle-man when it comes to much of technology delivery inside of our organizations. The current wave of nearly rampant IT consumerization is in the center of this discussion: Users are starting to call the shots, and when they aren't, the tablet vendors are with app stores and other delivery channels that neatly sidestep yesterday's technology intermediaries, particularly the traditional IT department.

Tablet and the shifting end-user IT landscape: Touch, UX, Linux, form factor, laptop, desktop, hardware, sensors, android, iOS, app stores, mobile apps, mind interface, voice, gesture, GPS, saas

Finally, the tablet industry itself has moved faster recently than just about any technology bureaucracy ever could, setting records for end user adoption along the way. In just two years, the industry has gone from basically non-existent to 19% of everyone in North America having a tablet of one kind or other, according to the Pew Research Center. This has left most IT departments either in a profoundly reactive mode or attempting to be proactive but not moving rapidly enough.

Not helping matters is that the tablet industry is also highly fluid at the moment. Its overall direction -- especially for how it will meet the needs of enterprise customers -- is uncertain, other than simple facts like Apple is dominating and Android is #2. Beyond that, the details of the story keep changing, making it hard, or at least fairly risky, to place expensive bets on strategies for the future of service delivery in the enterprise.

Reformulating IT delivery in an uncertain tablet world

While difficult and potentially risky, waiting for the dust to settle and for clear trends to emerge in the mobile industry just isn't an option. Employees are using their tablets for work now. They're using the apps they prefer and they also want access to company networks, intranet services, and enterprise data. And this strong demand is not just coming from line workers, but from the most senior executives as well, whose requests are far more difficult to ignore or put off. Organizations must have a strategy that will co-evolve rapidly with the tablet industry, providing ways to maximize the business value that tablets offer while managing the downsides, the largest of which -- at least today -- are generally perceived as security, data control, regulation, and compliance.

While employees are busy downloading Dropbox, Evernote, and an array of MS Office editors en masse today, IT departments are first and foremost worried about the uncontrolled exposure to the cloud that these mobile apps often cause. This is because many of the most useful apps aggressively use the cloud and beam user data (and therefore company data) into their own data centers or those of their partners. It's essentially a nightmare situation for data security and virtually all organizations today are facing it.

Related: Tablets in the enterprise: Pros and cons

Given that tablet operating systems and management tools don't have the right level of declarative policy control over which apps that workers can use based on where say, they store their data (other than the highly ineffective route of white or blacklisting offending apps), and it's a recipe for the perfect tightrope walk: IT can't stop users from using tablets, but enabling them automatically triggers the scenarios that the Chief Security Officer is most worried about.

In reality, the decision points for how much and what to open up and tablet-enable is even more complex, along with the challenges of delivering IT on devices that were largely never designed for enterprise requirements. These are at least the following:

  • Tablet OS/hardware proliferation. As of this writing, there is really just iOS and Android to deal with when it comes to tablets. However, especially with Android, but with iOS to a lesser extent, there are now literally hundreds of combinations of hardware and OS to deal with. The available features and capabilities of these combinations is making it quite challenging for mobile developers themselves, never mind enterprises. While Mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAP) such as Worklight and Sybase Unwired are trying to build intermediate abstraction layers so that enterprise can manage this issue, they also have the inevitable immaturity and common denominator challenges. They also generally create short-term advantages that can introduce long-term disadvantages. For now, most enterprises will have to maintain a manageable list of tablet devices/OSs that they fully support. However, especially with internally developed solutions, the challenge of strong device plurality remains steep.
  • Service-enabling existing IT for tablets. While solutions to existing mainstays of IT, such as access to the general intranet and e-mail, are largely solved for tablets today, the issue of opening up and accessing existing enterprise data in the silos where they currently reside remains one of the biggest challenges. It's also what users typically want most. While it's relatively easy to make it possible for workers to access existing productivity documents, simple data feeds, and even use their desktops remotely through screen sharing solutions, these are not the native apps your workers are looking for. They want the same level of user experience from your mobile IT as they're getting from the apps in Apple's App Store and the Android Market. While many enterprise software vendors are now offering at least rudimentary tablet front ends for their products, they largely remain that: Rudimentary and unable to compare to consumer apps. Forward thinking enterprises will find out which apps have the most demand internally for tablet editions and work with development partners to quickly create them when vendor supplied version don't exist. In reality, however, IT leaders should expect a great deal of end user-led mobile IT solutions for this, ranging from data migration of company data to the apps they prefer to wholesale outsourcing of the custom mobile apps they need. If IT can't lead this, it will need to make these scenarios safe and secure at the very least, and fully manageable and governable if at all possible.
  • Demand certain key enterprise-class features for tablets. In my analysis, given that they'll have to pick and choose their battles with consumer-oriented tablet vendors, enterprises should band together and require at least the following from tablet vendors:

    1. Declarative policy control over apps in the app store. Individually screening apps is a non-starter, given that there are already over a million in the two top app stores today. These policies should allow filtering by data storage location (local or cloud),
    2. Control over cloud data. Right now, enterprises can indeed gain control over mobile devices, but not the cloud services offered by tablet providers. From my conversations with CIOs recently, Apple's iCloud is one of the worst offenders, making it very difficult to wipe devices when employees leave the company, since a simple relogin from a wiped BYOD device just resyncs everything from iCloud, including company data. Companies are in a much worse situation with app providers themselves, who are far too fragmented to ever provide control over company data, or partition worker's private data from a enterprise's business data. This capability probably needs to be baked into the mobile platforms themselves. In the meantime, strict end-user policies combined with clear education of workers about the risks are about the only avenue open to businesses to protect their data unless they block iCloud and app stores completely, generally a non-starter.
    3. Location-aware degradation of features. Global companies in particular are challenged by mobile devices being used by workers that frequently travel. That's because tablets have features or use data in a way that can often be at odds with local laws about customer data, worker privacy, and more. While the Middle East is particularly problematic for mobile apps, especially when it comes to video and audio, even developed countries are putting more and more digital regulation in place that will make it easier for workers to inadvertently break the law. Tablet vendors need to make it easier for apps to be smarter about the world they work in and degrade features that break local laws. This is a topic I've heard in particular from a large number of global tablet customers and often they must just blacklist entire countries, negating the advantages of their mobile investments.

  • Playbook for internal app development vs. outsourcing. Most organizations I speak with are going the outsourcing route because mobile app development has become such an involved discipline. However, large companies often don't have the option of ramping up mobile development shops on today's complex next-gen enterprise IT landscapes. Getting the balance right here will mean the difference between being somewhat agile from not delivering internal mobile apps to users in reasonable time frame.
  • Mobile data security strategy. This is a set of tooling, infrastructure, and procedures to detect major data leaks and be as much ahead of problems right as they occur as possible.

Enabling tablets isn't enough: IT must be rethought

The real lesson is this: To get the primary advantages of tablets will require more than paving the old cowpath (i.e. merely conducting a literal translation of legacy IT to tablets.) Tablets are fundamentally different computing devices with entirely new capabilities. To get the real competitive advantage of the next-generation of end-user computing will require rethinking how tablets and their innate capabilities and strengths can be used to transform business processes. Location-awareness, always-connectedness, augmented reality, pervasive video/audio, and more can create highly situational and context-aware apps that hold the potential to provide hard business benefits. These benefits include boosting worker productivity, improving decision making, saving time, enabling more self-service, and reinventing business processes to operate in deeply integrated, highly immersive, and seamless new ways.

Related: Ten strategies for dealing with next-gen enterprise tech trends.

At the end of the day, as with the rapidly emerging field of social business, organizations that are able think as true mobile natives, and are successful in enabling the new business models and ways of operating which next-generation mobility makes possible, will reap the fullest rewards as they update and refine their end-user computing leadership.

See Also:

Apple's enterprise strategy: Steady as consumerization goes

Topic: Tablets

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  • All I know is,

    Right now BYOD is being encouraged by management, at the suggestion of symposium groups and cajoling their idea for the herd to follow.

    Workers seem to forget who buys the BYOD. Which is the workers. Funny how this works...

    This is indeed a shift in delivery. Especially when the encouragement becomes mandatory.

    Many jobs could be lost, nor will wages go up because of all the money saved in this transitive process, to allow the to-be worker in more readily buying the latest upgrade for the company. But workers get all the money they need from the money trees that grow in their backyards, yes? With stagnating or dropping wages, compared to the cost of living and inflation, this does not bode well once "encouragement" becomes "mandatory policy".

    What is being set up is very simple: This is just a money-grab, at worker expense. Nothing more.

    After all, companies provided pensions 30 years ago buy they encouraged workers to do 401ks. Fast forward in time and see the result. 401k plans being wiped out time and again by the stock market casino when those cash in their stocks to cause the devaluing of the company.

    Sorry for the tangent in the last paragraph.
    • Not really about shafting workers

      Good points until the money grab part. Workers are the ones driving this change just as much as management. Yes, they are willing to pay for their own IT if they get to choose the tools. The smart employers will give them a budget and indeed, I know of a few CIOs who now do this.

      But given Moore's Law, the cost of most of this whole tech story is increasingly falling to approximately zero. Good $100 tablets will be common soon for example, so this is not actually about real money. It's about control, flexibility, agility, and the right tools for the job, something that good workers do care about and can now largely take the reins away from IT.

      Consumerization is a historic shift in the center of power for IT.
      • Combination...

        Yeah, it's probably a combination of things. I know that where I work, they recently retired the company issued Blackberries and had employees with portable e-mail needs install an app on their smartphone instead. There's a subsidy, which is nice, but the app (Mobile Iron) locks down phones pretty severely, which a real PITA (rooting is not allowed, phone must be encrypted, you must use an alpha-numeric unlock passord etc.)

        OTOH, I recently bought an ASUS Tranformer TF300 and really appreciate the company's efforts to integrate these devices into our work environment. I'm a Sysadmin, and when I'm called to work remotely, I really, really appreciate being able to do so on my 2 1/2 lb Transformer with the Citrix app rather than being forced to use the massive 17" laptop the company assigned me. Yeah, some folks insist on football field sized screens to get their work done, but I'm more than happy on a 10" 1280 x 800 screen. And while, I guess I could have asked that the company buy me a Transformer, I like the fact that this machine is mine, mine, mine, that I can install all the goofy games I want on it, and use it as I see fit in my spare time, and that it will go with me even if I decided to find a new job.
      • No, you obviously do not get the implication in his post.

        People might well be willing to pay for hardware when they get to choose the hardware. Its not the endpoint of the issue though.

        The endpoint of the issue is that when its all said and done, the employer should be paying for the employees work computer. Whatever it has to end up being. Sure, that may lead to the employee not getting hardware of his choice, but non the less, it should not be falling on the head eventually that they will need to supply their own hardware.


        When something goes wrong with computing hardware at the job it gives rise to numerous possible issues. Is it a security issue, did the security issue lead to a problem for the company generally, is it a software issue related to a piece of company software? Is it a hardware breakdown? Who pays for it? What are the implications for the employee? What if some new required piece of software will not work properly, or maybe at all on someones own hardware?

        The whole BYOD theory starts from the viewpoint that everyone can afford it. Thats why its flawed from the beginning. There are simply some that cannot. Why are we even talking about slowly sliding into a regime that will inevitably put some into that position? Just because some can afford it and don't like the half baked hardware the company purchases?

        Understandable point of view for those who can afford it, and do want to use their own device, but sadly insufficient for those who do not fit that profile and as such its the wrong direction to be headed in.

        In the long run, there is no better argument to be made on the theory of BYOD that cannot be made even better when arguing the same from the standpoint of the employer doing the purchasing. If its such a great idea for the employer, they should be giving each employee "X" amount of dollars to purchase the tech needed and if they want to throw some of their own cash in as well, then fine, but simply BYOD is flawed at the core.
    • Right On! Right On!

      You are exactly right. Again, the 1 percent prospering at the expense of the 99 percent. The difference, this time, is they are fostering this on the 99 using the cool factor. They have been looking for ways to cut employee cost and what better way than making them pay for the equipment that they use. I agree with you, as soon as they get enough people hooked, BYOD will become mandatory. So much for being kool!!
    • I see your point

      BYOD is a nightmare waiting to happen. Grow a pair and tell your manager to piss off. What happens when the network is breached due to BYOD? I guarantee management will throw IT under the bus!
  • New capabilities?

    I think you've misspelled "deficiency" as "capability". Tablets are *consumption* devices. They are useful for display (assuming you can shoehorn the data onto the small screen), they lack even an acceptable keyboard.

    Once you add a keyboard that doesn't require half the (already tiny) screen the device is no longer a tablet, it's an underpowered laptop. And if it's an underpowered laptop that happens to run Windows you suddenly have the entire Enterprise infrastructure, just like you would a laptop. Except, given the lack of processing power, you're still screwed.

    For IOS, Android, etc, however, you're still looking at a basically unmanagable device.

    Good luck with that.
    • But tablets can create as well as consume

      Particularly for interaction tasks, including audio and video, tablets are strong performers when it comes to creation. Voice, gesture, and other input capabilities are beginning to address other shortfalls. And yes, I add a Bluetooth keyboard to my iPad when I need it, but when I don't it stays in my bag. In fact, I find myself bringing my MacBook less on trips and my iPad more.

      But Windows is not the future OS for the workplace, unless something significant happens, it will be iOS and Android.

      Finally, mobile devices absolutely are manageable, many good platforms exist for this and I don't see many complaints about them from IT departments. I do hear complaints about 3rd party apps, that's where the most concern seems to be.
      • This sounds like the everybody needs a laptop claim of a few years back

        It is amazing how often I heard the laptop claim and then went into clients and found laptops that had not moved in years. One client of mine, had installed security cables and when their lease ran out they found they had lost the keys to the locks!

        Yes tablets can create as well as consume, and for some specialties they will be the wave of the future. But for many people in offices this will be the next version of the laptop that goes nowhere. Except that like the early desktop for everyone, they will be putting out a system with less power that costs more.

        One of my clients recently decided the recession was over enough to replace their workers old machines. They did the survey and found that over 85% of the laptops they had purchased the last time around never left the persons desk. Comparing the prices of the systems, they saved a bundle and got most people more powerful machines by rolling back to mainly desktops.
      • We finally got your drift

        "But windows is not the future OS for the workplace, unless something significant happens, it will be ios and Android." Well!!!!
      • If your target audience is YouTube maybe

        Most laptops and all tablets on the market lack the horsepower for professional audio and video production. This is still the realm of high powered, high priced workstations. If your job involves such production, you wouldn't be doing it on an iPad unless you're just dumping content on You Tube (and even then, is it better for post-production over a real computer?)

        We don't complain about mobile devices in our environment since the only ones allowed on the network are actual laptops. Some people have their iToys, but they can't be on the corporate network, even if they are corporate-owned iToys.
      • "But tablets can create as well as consume"; Poorly in most cases.

        How anyone, anyone at all could make the laughable claim that "tablets will soon become the primary computing device for most users" I don't know unless they are a tablet fanatic.

        I know a guy who loves monkey wrenches so much he would find a way to build an entire house with nothing but a monkey wrench, and I am sure he would find a way. But its never going to be the right way or even the smart way.

        Someone who says that "tablets will soon become the primary computing device for most users" can only say that with a straight face if they are thinking, (but not saying) several important possibilities.

        1. Soon means many years from now.

        2. For some bizarre reason people will no longer need tactile keyboards to do their best typing.

        3. Within those several years (before tablets become the primary computing device for most people) all programs and files get much smaller, or tablet HD's get much larger, or people who now worry about the safety of their files on an encrypted laptop HD with a biometric log on will for some reason suddenly feel fine storing those same files in the cloud.

        4. Everyone and anyone who works with a computer who for any reason now feels they cannot get by without working on a screen larger then 15 inches or more will suddenly realized they were just wrong.

        5. Windows 8 is going to do everything in spades that its held out to be able to do on a tablet. This one is most likely, but also the most necessary.

        Unless all these things come to pass, a tablet is a long long way away from ever becoming even the minorities primary computing device.

        Smartphones have a better chance.
      • No they don't create well

        Try serious photo editing images for a website or uploading content. Or creating or designing professional Illustrator like or AutoCad content from a tablet. This is nice in theory but far from becoming reality.

        Tablets are useful for research, quickly getting correspondence and as entertainment but as far as a mainline only work device; you can have it. Just give me a laptop. If I had a choice of a single tool, a tablet or laptop--I would take the laptop.
    • consumtion device?

      The whole Idea that a Tablet is a consumption device may have been relevant 2 years ago but the game has changed significantly. I can even FTP into my webserver and write code for it. I've used my tablet to test wireless strength in our building to determine suitable locations for new access points. The idea of them being an "underpowered laptop that is more expensive" is becoming a moot point as well. You can buy software for tablets that can do the same things that windows computers can do for a fraction of the cost. The sophistication isn't there yet, but its coming.
      • Not even going to bother.

        Ridiculous comments. Positively ridiculous.

        The tablet you seem to be talking about is nothing like any tablet I have ever read about and I thought I had read about most of them.

        "You can buy software for tablets that can do the same things that windows computers can do for a fraction of the cost"

        WHAT???? My GOD! Did you really say that????

        Ok, I can build a tower for $400 that will play Diablo III. Will a tablet that cost a fraction of that play Diablo III at all? Is there even a tablet that only cost a fraction of $400 that is even any good for much?

        I can have a dozen screens running on that same desktop monitor, I can multitask and get real work done, and if I want I can upgrade it, and in a few years I can replace that same tower, using the same 22" screen and keyboard and mouse I use now and it will only cost me another $400 for a new tower thats going to be even bigger and badder then any new tablet out at that time.

        Your statement is pure garbage and it can only come from someone who just loves tablets because they somehow met his personal needs. Tablets do not meet the general computing needs of the vast majority of the population. Not even close. They need years of development and improvements in tech before they will ever get there.
      • Try Designing or Photo/Video editing on one...

        I have and don't ever need that level of frustration again. Maybe for certain industries you can get away with just using a tablet but for others forget about it. Plus add all the add-ons to make it functionable. A stand or should you just hold it while doing design work? A keyboard & mouse because using your fingers to design is counterproductive.

        This tablet replacement concept is used to steer, cattle-herd consumers towards purchasing from Wall St's latest casino, Apple since it is routine to bash all Android tablets by all tech sites. iPad, the wonder item, that can do all things be all things. From 90% of the market to 61% in two years. Read the comments, not too many are buying into the feasibility.
    • But it's perfect...

      For those users who job is limited to web surfing and Angry Birds. Actual workers will still need real computers.
  • Kinda like predicting that the mystery.....

    "Ginger" (the Segway) was gonna revolutionize transportation!
    Audio and video in a REAL JOB?
    Give me a break!
    Maybe at a restuarant to take orders, but for ERP/MRP and manufacturing?
  • The death of the PC has been grossly exaggerated.

    Some things a tablet is just too cumbersome and inefficient to do. The touchscreen interface is interesting enough for play and some basic office functions. It does a good enough job and running PowerPoint presentations and the like.

    Sometimes however, there is real work that has to be done and done fairly quickly. Mobile devices of all sort will no doubt have a nice niche market in business for some time and heck, they do make great media toys. They simply don't do enough to take over the business market as a primary tool and if they are made big enough and powerful enough to do all that real work then they will lose one of their primary attributes with is a relatively small size.
    • Perhaps, but we'll certainly know soon enough

      It's possible that tablet won't mature enough to replace most PC functions, but I suspect they will. Their long battery life, instant on, and always connectedness will appeal to remote workers, which most of us are becoming.

      I also suspect app innovation has largely moved to mobile devices and this will further fuel demand. Most employees will thus use tablets in the future (even if they have PCs) and regardless of the adoption speed at this point, most enterprises must treat them as first class citizens.