Don't underestimate work productivity credentials of consumer tablets

Tablets are almost always a supplemental device for SMBs, helping employees stay more closely connected to work issues. The downside is that few companies protect tablets adequately.

The use case for supporting tablet computers within a small or midsize business is increasingly compelling from a productivity standpoint. I can say this with my gut because I rely on one myself to pare down my email frequently throughout the weekends and in the evenings, but I also happen to have backup evidence from two different surveys that I skimmed over the Labor Day weekend.

It makes me wonder how many thousands of those Hewlett-Packard TouchPads that have been on fire sale for the past few weeks have been purchased by small businesses that -- given the rock-bottom purchase price of $99 -- don't really care what happens when they break down. I don't want to suggest that they are "disposable" but they sure are cheap at that price, so what do you have to lose?

Here's the thing: Even though the latest generation of tablets have been around roughly 18 months since the introduction of the Apple iPad, almost 40 percent of small and midsize businesses have begun to adopt them, according to annual research on technology adoption trends by CompTIA, a technology trade organization. The research, which was released in July 2011, listed the following as the Top 6 uses:

  1. Light work while traveling (68 percent)
  2. Capture notes during meetings (54 percent)
  3. Making presentations, in lieu of laptop (52 percent)
  4. Point of sale transactions (50 percent)
  5. Demo a product (47 percent)
  6. Communications, in lieu of a smartphone (44 percent)

The base for the CompTIA data is interviews with 390 small and midsize businesses planning to use tablets.
The CompTIA research dovetails with data from Staples Advantage (which sells technology to business accounts) showing that approximately 80 percent of tablet users report having a better "work/life balance" as a result of using a table. There were approximately 200 tablet users surveyed for these results. Here are the primary purchase motivators:

  • Increased productivity (60 percent)
  • Staying connected to colleagues or clients (40 percent)
  • Easy to use because of its portability (90 percent)

Almost all of those surveyed are using tablets in conjunction with another device, not as the primary device.
The downside of tablets, of course, is security. When I chatted with Ed Ludwigson, vice president and general manager of Staples Technology Solutions, he said only about one-third percent of tablet users apparently are taking adequate steps to back up the data on the device. Fewer than 15 percent of them have either encryption or antivirus software on the device, he said.
SMBs need to pay more attention to tablet access control; Staples advocates using cloud-based applications so that data actually isn't downloaded to the device itself. That way, if it is lost, the potential damage is minimized, Ludwigson said.
The other downside to tablets, in my mind, is that you wind up working around the clock instead of during predefined hours. Then again, that's probably what most SMBs hope. As someone who MUST keep up with email, I am willing to live what that tradeoff.
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