Tablets as secondary computers for the enterprise

Tablets as secondary computers for the enterprise

Summary: Tablets are going to the office in greater numbers as time progresses. Enterprises struggling with how to make them work should perhaps keep the desktops and incorporate tablets as secondary devices.

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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

In some companies tablets are all over the place, and they often fill primary computing roles for workers. That doesn't work in all cases, as the desktop and/or laptop still rules the office. Those companies wanting to go mobile may be struggling to figure out how to bring tablets in, as workers like them, and often they can increase productivity at a low cost.

When those in charge of corporate PC deployments think about tablets, it's often in the role of a primary computer. The strategy is considered to have tablets replace the aging desktops and laptops. History has shown that it's good business to have one computer per employee, and that's the approach usually taken.

For some companies, it makes better sense to bring tablets in to augment the existing computer infrastructure. This is especially appropriate for those enterprises implementing a BYOD program. That allows easing the tablet in without stressing the existing environment.

Tablets are famous as consumption devices, and believe it or not this works well for most offices. When we think of consumption on a tablet we think of music, video, and the like, but it also pertains to documents and databases.

Tablets are perfect for workers to have a look at the latest quarterly numbers for example, and to communicate thoughts about them. The onscreen keyboard is adequate for making small changes to work documents, and other light editing duties. 

See related: Microsoft Office: Enabling the iPad to do 'real work'Office for the iPad: It's all about the enterpriseThe ABCs of BYOD for the SMB

Field representatives can have the PC in the office for doing real work, and a tablet when they hit the road. Sales reps in particular find tablets to be great for accessing price databases in the office, while sitting in front of a customer's desk. This is the perfect scenario for the tablet as a secondary computer.

I've long been an advocate of using a tablet with a keyboard as a laptop replacement, but that's not a good solution for many. For those folks (and companies), the tablet is meant to be used in the hands, consuming content. The secondary role is good for these folks, as the primary PC back in the office is a fallback for them.

Not being thrust in the position to get everything done on a tablet helps ease those workers resistant to change into using the slate. The more they use the tablet for work tasks, the more likely they are to end up doing quite a bit with them.

Tablets are very personal by nature, and it's not uncommon for those new to the form to take to them. These employees may end up being more productive with the tablet than without. This could lead to a greater role in the enterprise for tablets down the gray carpeted road.

In summary, it may be easier to get workers to buy into using the tablet if it's not expected to be the only computer. Let employees continue to use the full computer in the office, and ease into using the tablet outside. You may be surprised how quickly they adopt the tablet to fill a greater role in their work effort.

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Bring Your Own Device

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20 comments
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  • Tablets are being use in companies

    to COLLECT DATA not to "consume content"
    Retterdyne
    • Tough tablets

      we've been using robust tablets for years in logistics to collection information on the warehouse floor, but an iPad or standard Android tablet won't cut it in that environment. They must be dropable and water resistant. There are some tough Android tablets appearing on the market now, which means we are slowly transitioning away from Linux and Windows.
      wright_is
      • away from Windows and iThings?

        Hi :)
        Moving towards ruggedised Android devices is a move towards Linux. Android is a flavour of Linux.
        Regards from
        Tom :)
        Tom6
        • Sort of...

          Android might run on a custom Linux platform, but it doesn't run the collection of touch based apps we have developed over the last 2 decades...
          wright_is
  • Level headed

    Nice column for once about the reality of a tablet in business. I use my Surface a lot, but I use it appropriately in situations where mobility is important. When I am at my desk, the tablet is turned off, and my PC is far better for productivity. 3 cheers for common sense.
    Sean Foley
    • Here, we use Surface mobile and at the desk....

      I have bought a good amount of the Surface Pro tablets lately for my co-workers and with a docking station they use the Surface both mobile and as their desktop when docked at their desk with the Surface docking station. No need for 2 computers when the one you have can do both!
      OhTheHumanity
      • Are they allowed to take the Surface Pro home

        evenings and weekends?
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Sure.....

          Its their main office computer/laptop/tablet.
          OhTheHumanity
      • Getting in some test units

        We have a few Surface Pros around but only as IT test devices, we never moved to them as standard placement. The screen is just too small, they are not very serviceable, etc.

        We have been looking into "yoga" style convertibles as we feel these would give our BPs a full laptop but also allow them to use them in tablet mode if they wanted. We are also going to get in a Dell Venue Pro 11 and try that out as well. The dell has good options such as docks and such and also replaceable batteries. And being that its a dell, it falls under our on prem servicing.
        Rann Xeroxx
        • Understandable......

          If you have poor vision and such. There are also options to increase the font and such to help with that, but they work well for taking to meetings and such and with the docking station at their desks it just helps that not be a problem because they have a full monitor, keyboard and mouse to do their real crunching on. But you got to get what works for you, I am not to keen on some of the convertibles yet as some are too big and bulky to be used as a tablet, but they are getting better on that front and I'm interested to see what options come down the pike.
          OhTheHumanity
  • You initial premise is wrong

    The typical corporate environment brings in tablets as low-end replacements for laptops. Why buy workers a desktop computer for productivity AND provide them an equally powerful laptop computer for in-house meetings. In those scenarios, the tablet is an auxiliary device for e-mail and browsing the Internet.

    The corporate "road warrior" only needs a high-end laptop but they may also want a lightweight tablet for when they don't need a full-function laptop.

    The only setting in which the business MIGHT with to replace computers with tablets as the primary computing device is where the tablet can truly replace the computer for all its functions. This is extremely rare indeed.

    In the large enterprise, with a robust virtualized desktop environment, workers can use their tablets to access centralized business applications. In the smallest business environment, where the computer is used strictly for personal productivity, then the tablet may be the primary worker device but then, keep track of business-oriented documents outside of a shared data storage environment can indeed be tricky.
    M Wagner
    • You had me at "Keep track of business oriented documents"!

      Are you living in the dark, M Wagner? Your comments were great until you said: :"the tablet may be the primary worker device but then, keep track of business-oriented documents outside of a shared data storage environment can indeed be tricky."

      In this world of Enterprise Mobility Management Vendors, the conundrum of providing secure access to business oriented documents residing in a shared data storage environment has been solved. It is called a secure workspace or dual persona or hypervisor functionality. Our solution provides a secure workspace with FIPS compliant encryption where users can access and edit said documents or go to CRM or access other cloud/network data. All of this data remains inside the workspace with no interaction with native applications on the mobile device. Effectively nothing can be backed up to icloud, any content on an sd card is encrypted at a level that renders it unreadable outside of the workspace.

      Is this tricky? NOPE. It is simple and enjoyable for the end user and at the same time allows Risk Management, IT and LEgal to rest easy knowing all data is secure and always in their control.
      mlauer56
  • Full feature tablets vs laptops

    We are slowly replacing our laptops with Helix tablets. Since I work mostly out of a home office, I presently have a Thinkpad laptop that I use with a docking station. I have a regular keyboard and mouse and two full size monitors, so in essence I have a desktop computer. But when I hit the road, I grab my laptop and I'm fully mobile. Since all our data is stored on an inter company cloud that we run ourselves, it is available where ever I have internet. The Helix table will work the same way. It has the capability of running all the software I use, and accessing all my data. I can use it as a tablet or a laptop and I can use it as the hub of my desktop work. It is a costly tablet, but when you think of it as replacing two or three machines, it's a pretty good deal.
    lesterbauman
  • The only tablet that replaces a desktop of laptop is a Surface Pro

    With a Core i5 and 64-bit Windows 8.1 the tablet is capable of running on full-sized monitors, uses standard keyboards and a mouse and integrates with all corporate devices usually found on a network. When you need it to be a tablet it is one. With its touch or type pad it is a laptop. It is expensive however when you factor in that it is actually doing the work of a desktop, laptop and tablet the cost seems much more reasonable and there is no retraining for existing software.
    The Heretic
    • "no retraining for existing software."

      And yet a truckload of training is required to use Windows 8. It is damn awful and incapable of being used productively.
      1,2,3
      • BULL!

        "And yet a truckload of training is required to use Windows 8" Granted it may take an hour or so but Windows 8 is not that difficult. 8.1 is even better. Once you get your head out of your backside it's actually pretty good.

        My wife switched from Vixta with very little training and she is truly a support person's nightmare.
        Please stop with the misconceptions.
        harrim47
      • Heard the same FUD with the Office Ribbon

        Yet when we moved to Office 2010, did a bit of training and make some desk cards cheat sheets and added a few vids to the intranet site and users moved to it just fine.

        Same with the Metro UI. There are maybe 10 things you need to some the typical user but after that they are fine.
        Rann Xeroxx
    • Not quite

      The Surface is fine, but there are other tablets spec'd equal better than a Surface (and not manufactured by ASUS) and it should be noted that the Surface Pro is using a Consumer class Intel chipset.
      114SWH
  • Reference, Reference, Reference!

    Not all work is excel and Adobe Photoshop. Think of the Apple commercial about the guys fixing windmills. The Farm Bureau switched to tablets for the farm surveys (no paperwork to misfile or lose). There is still going to be get back to the office and deal with the information or maybe not if someone created a useful corporate app. Desktops for office, tablets for field!

    For example, one of our clients (largest Nuclear Power site in the world) is testing out tablets for the workers in the two powerstations. Nothing but nothing means paperwork like a Nuclear operation because the implication is many millions of dollars a day if you can't fix a problem NOW. Too much to remember so every detail is on paper (or on the tablet). Got a problem, check the paperwork (loaded by someone at a desktop). And being able to get an "authorized updated workplan" from the engineers while standing beside the machine to fix is priceless. And tablets can send live video if the engineers still can't understand the problem.
    CanadianTrooper
  • Not all tablets are created equal

    An organization needs to determine what they want from tablet. Either it's a companion device running IOS, Android, on Windows with an Atom processor) or it's can be a primary machine if the tablet is spec'd appropriately (Core i5 processor, 4-8GB, 128GB+ drive) and docking station.
    It's all about use case, expectations, and how many devices an organization is willing to support.
    I work for Panasonic. If you're in an "austere environment" check out our Toughpad line. They're more expensive to buy, but they are very cheap in the long run. The desktop docks provides PC class performance in the office and the optional mobile keyboard provides a great experience if you need to actually create data when away from the office.
    114SWH