By Kyp Walls, director of product management, Panasonic System Communications Company of North America
Technology is evolving at light speed, and the way we work is changing with it. Capabilities that were unimaginable 10 or even 5 years ago are now commonplace, and this has driven efficiency and productivity by leaps and bounds. We now have the ability to work from virtually anywhere, storing our data “in the cloud,” and staying constantly linked to the central office via wireless broadband connections.
Over the past couple of years, one of the primary computing devices enabling this evolution has been the tablet computer — a sleek, elegant, and easy-to-use device that has gone from a niche product to a global phenomenon, seemingly overnight. As a way to boost mobility and efficiency, tablets are an excellent choice, and their role in the enterprise continues to grow. Over the next five years, total shipments of tablet computers to enterprises around the world are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 48%, according to Infinite Research. Tablets’ portability, flexibility, and ease of use have made them a great fit for applications of all kinds. It’s clear that tablets are bringing improved productivity and mobility into the enterprise, but this technology evolution has not come without its growing pains. In many cases, tablets are so attractive to business users that many of them have not waited for their companies to issue them — they’ve brought their own personal devices to work. In other cases, organizations have issued devices to their employees that are better suited for consumer use and lack enterprise-critical security, durability, and functionality. This has resulted in a fragmented IT management landscape consisting of myriad devices with different operating systems, security challenges, and support needs.
Over the past year, the technology industry has seen a shakeup that could play a large role in addressing this issue. Last fall, Microsoft released Windows 8, the most dramatic overhaul of its operating system since 1995. Offering a redesigned interface and several new features, the operating system is built for mobility, security, and manageability. And when paired with enterprise-class hardware, Windows 8 opens the door for businesses to embrace the benefits of tablets, without sacrificing security, functionality, and management capabilities.
Windows 8 Advantages
For the past couple of years, many IT departments have been forced to weigh their users’ mobility needs — which have often included new devices with alternative operating systems and potential security risks— against the need for management, security, and system integration. This creates a complicated and fractured environment, putting managers into a “troubleshooting” mode versus concentrating on strategic growth. Designed with mobile productivity in mind, Windows 8 allows enterprises to sidestep these compromises in tablet deployments.
One of the most obvious benefits of Windows 8 is its redesigned, metro interface. Built to take advantage of touchscreen technology found on devices such as tablets, the interface offers users the fast and fluid efficiency and personalization found on today’s popular consumer devices. The operating systems use of swipe, tap, and drag gestures allows users to easily switch between applications and multitask. While multitasking is a business reality, it’s a challenge for some tablet operating systems, potentially limiting worker productivity. The interface also includes live updating tiles, which can help business users retain situational awareness. One of the greatest benefits of Windows 8 is the ability to have the same operating system in desktop and tablet environments. Not only is the IT department supporting a single operating system, users benefit from a seamless and familiar operating environment across all of their devices.
Security is a critical need in any enterprise technology, and Windows 8 offers several features not found in many other tablet operating systems. Secure Boot, for example, is a boot-up process that helps prevent malware from running at startup. Unlike some mobile app download services, Microsoft vets each app included in the Windows Store for quality and safety before making it available for download.
From an IT management perspective, a key benefit is its ability to work with existing software and hardware. Microsoft’s operating system holds a steadily large overall market share, and its popularity is likely greater in the enterprise segment. Many business-critical applications, especially in certain vertical market segments, are designed with Windows in mind. It’s also integrated into the enterprise in other ways, such as the many third-party cloud and software-as-a-service providers using Active Directory for identity management. Windows 8 works with mobile device management (MDM) systems as well, including offering features to secure devices from unauthorized use.
A host of additional features improves productivity in other ways. For example, a feature called Windows To Go allows users to create a bootable Windows 8 image that runs directly from a USB drive, without network access or specialized credentials. Other benefits include improved bootup speed, as well as improved networking and VPN capabilities.
Choosing the Right Device
Equally important as the operating system is the right hardware. Purpose-built tablets, designed specifically for enterprise use, offer the functionality and ease of use that business users require, without compromising on security or manageability.
Before investing in a tablet deployment, verify that the devices will offer the features your business demands. Something as simple as a user-replaceable battery, which many consumer devices lack, could ward off a disaster for a worker in the field far from home. In other cases, it may be as simple as a tablet with a daylight-viewable screen, which ensures a mobile employee can work efficiently regardless of lighting challenges. Some workers may need a device that can be used with a digitizer pen for signature capture or an all-touch interface for easy manipulation of graphics or images.
The most common causes of mobile computer failures are drops and spills. As mobility grows, the opportunity for these issues to impact your workers will also grow. Having devices that are engineered to take a fall to a hard surface and to ward off spills, rain, or dust can help to ensure maximum productivity.
Tablets built for the enterprise also will offer hardware-level security designed to complement features found in the operating system. Features like Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chipsets and Intel anti-theft technology offer a level of security that is hard to match with simple software solutions.
With computer hardware such as tablets, it’s also important to understand the difference between price and cost. Even at an enterprise level, it’s natural to gravitate toward the lowest sticker price. However, if that device has a high failure rate, hinders productivity, lacks enterprise-level support, or has a short standard warranty, it will end up costing more in the long run — not just in replacement costs but also labor costs, inefficiency, the loss of critical data, reduced customer satisfaction and more. Think about products in terms of their total cost of ownership in order to get the most for your money.
Tablets represent a turning point for the enterprise, with the promise of new efficiencies, methods of decision-making, and competitive advantage. By making the right enterprise technology decisions, you can ensure your workers are equipped to take advantage of these gains without compromise.