Tablets in Enterprises

Tablet devices are increasingly finding their way into enterprises, even when it is against the wishes of the IT department.

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Tablets in Enterprises (Getty Images)
By  Ben Furfie Published  November 24, 2010

Tablet devices are increasingly finding their way into enterprises, even when it is against the wishes of the IT department. However, analysts are warning that a crackdown on the devices may be counterproductive and are urging CIOs to accept the new reality that consumer gadgets are increasingly becoming a part of the landscape and look at ways to accomodate them within their IT infrastructure plans.

When Apple announced the iPad back in January, few could have predicted the impact the device would have upon businesses. The idea of tablet PCs had been around for years – and in many guises – but as with the iPod and the iPhone before it, Apple took the concept and turned it on its head. The result? What is essentially a consumer device has invaded enterprises around the world, and brought about a monumental shift in the way that we think about what a computer is. For an industry that is used to rapid change, the speed that the iPad has had an impact on market has been slightly surreal.

By September 30th 2010 – just over six months after it went on sale – Apple had sold 7.5m iPads, with as many of them ending up in offices as homes. This success hasn’t gone unnoticed by Apple’s rivals. Many of them, including Microsoft and Google on the software side, and Samsung, HP and Research in Motion on the hardware side have found themselves on a backfoot. Even enterprises have found themselves unsure of what to make of the devices, and their role within the IT infrastructure.

The biggest questions facing CIOs are the same when it comes to other devices like smartphones and netbooks. Do you ban them outright, and only allow them if they fit into your tightly controlled IT strategy, or do you allow your employees to use the devices to help boost their productivity and mobility. Then you’ve also got the quandary of whether you allow them to use their own personal tablet, or whether you only allow them to use the tablet device you choose suitable.

Considering how disruptive the form factor has been, it’s no surprise to find that few vendors agree on issues, especially those around security.

“Tablets lack effective infrastructure and management tools compared to traditional computers and laptops,” says Bulent Teksoz, channel technology officer for Emerging Markets at Symantec. “But the biggest risk posed by these devices is that because they are portable, they are easily misplaced or stolen compared to a PC, or laptop.”

However, despite these protestations from vendors, high profile analysts have issues stringent warnings to their enterprise clients that trying to resist allowing tablet devices into the workplace is not only incredibly foolish, but is also about as likely to have the same result as ignoring cloud.

“The consumerisation of IT is something that Gartner has been written about extensively as a phenomenon for some time,” says Mark McDonald, vice president at the analyst’s executive programmes division. “While it presents challenges to CIOs and IT executives, there is a deeper and more profound change going on. The consumer market is beginning to matter more to technology providers than the business marketplace and [its] demands. The sale of three million iPads – approximately $1.8bn in revenue – in 80 days is one indication of the attractiveness and the power of the consumer marketplace. Every one of those iPads was sold at list price. CIOs who wanted a discount when they were buying 300 units were informed that there was no discount. In addition to that, the software – the thing that makes these devices so desirable for enterprise users – is clearly orientated in one direction – the consumer.”

And within lays the problem. As a consumer device –especially one owned by the user – there is the risk that personal activities may bring the risk of viruses and Trojans that IT use policies in the work are designed to protect against. In addition, as a device owned by the employee, it is likely to leave the office every day, increasing the risks posed to corporate data.

However, rather than use this conundrum as an excuse to clamp down on the devices, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton believes CIOs should look for a technological solution. “These devices increase productivity in ways no company owned device can – in addition, because it is owned by the employee, they’re much more likely to ensure that they don’t lose it,” he tells Arabian Computer News. “CIOs need to stop looking at ways of resisting the rise of consumer electronics. Nothing they do will stop it.

“If you look at our virtualisation suite, it is possible to allow devices like the iPad access sensitive corporate data, from anyway, without it ever being stored on the device,” he adds. “It is new ways of thinking that will enable CIOs to benefit from the rise of consumer technology in the workplace, while also fulfilling their security responsibilities when it comes to data.”

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