After several years of struggling to accommodate personally-owned smartphones, many corporate IT groups are taking the opposite tack with tablets: they're issuing corporate-owned iPads and Android tablets. And partly as a result, at least some are seeing a jump in costs for mobile end user support, redesigned custom applications, and device administration.
Insider content: 3 tips for avoiding tablet management headaches
Special to Network World: "The enterprise mobility revolution by the numbers (and the security implications)"
For this latest installment in "Tablets Go Corporate," we revisited three companies we covered in December 2011 [See "IT groups reveal their best enterprise tablet tricks"] - Bayada Home Health Care, Hawthorn Pharmaceuticals, and The Ottawa Hospital - along with a new one: Boston Scientific, which began deploying the very first iPad within weeks of its release. Now it has 5,300 corporate-owned iPads distributed worldwide.
Except for Bayada, all have deployed iPads as a corporate standard. Bayada deployed the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab and is now adding the newer Tab 2. That fits with the iPad's overwhelming dominance in enterprise deployments. Boston Scientific also has a tablet BYOD program, but limited to iPads, currently with about 1,000 devices.
Together, these four companies are a microcosm of the way tablets, and mobile computing in general, are overturning the PC paradigm, and doing so with astonishing rapidity. "This is a disruptive technology," says Dale Potter, CIO at The Ottawa Hospital. "We're ripping PCs out of the environment faster than we're installing them. This may be the death of the PC."
Tablets are more likely to be corporate-owned than are smartphones, even when a company is willing to support employee-owned tablets. Data from a recent survey of 556 companies in 45 countries by Aberdeen Group found that overall, 43% of the sample were willing to support any personally owned tablet; 29% allowed selected tablets, but over one quarter -- 28% -- banned all personal tablets. By contrast, 51% allowed any personally owned smartphone to be used for business; 32% allowed selected phones (from a corporate-approved list); and only 17% banned all personal smartphones for business use.
Companies aren't abandoning "bring your own device" (BYOD) policies for tablets, but "tablet adoption won't be like smartphone adoption," says Aberdeen's Andrew Borg, research director, enterprise mobility and communications. Big companies especially are more likely to impose policy-based limits and constraints to ensure compliance with corporate security and management requirements, he says.
"When you move into network and file access in [tablet] apps, you need to worry about much more than you do for email access," says Rich Adduci, CIO at Boston Scientific in Boston. "You're accessing proprietary information, so greater control is a necessity. It's hard to get that [control] in a BYOD environment."
For Boston Scientific, control comes from an early decision to create a management infrastructure as part of the iPad deployment. The company chose SAP's Sybase Afaria for provisioning mobile devices, and the Sybase Unwired Platform for device management. "We knew we would have a large deployment," Adduci says. "We knew we couldn't do that if we didn't have device provisioning and control in place." At the same time, he's realistic about the current state of the art for device management. "As with any new technology, there will be things missing from it, compared to the much more mature device management capabilities of the desktop.
All four companies are in very different places with regard to managing tablets. The Ottawa Hospital pushed hard to deploy iPads quickly, in order to support a critical computerized physician order-entry project (replacing plans for laptops). Management wasn't a top priority initially, though the hospital eventually adopted MobileIron's mobile device management software. But much tablet administration is still largely manual: when the annual influx of nearly 1,000 residents showed up at the hospital recently, their iPad registration, configuration, and set up required a "small army" of IT staff to do it, Potter says.
"We did it by brute force, stubbornness and hands-on support," says CIO Potter. "Today, I'd caution people to put some thought into this beforehand. You need a mobile strategy to address security and privacy concerns, management issues, et cetera."
Bayada Home Health Care has a skeleton management infrastructure for its nearly 2,500 Android tablets. They continue to rely heavily on their main cellular carrier, T-Mobile for help in deploying the Samsung Galaxy Tabs, and monitoring data plan usage; and on their key software vendor, Homecare Homebase, which accelerated their Android native app development to create a native tablet app with a secure password connection to the Web backend. If tablets are lost or stolen the IT group can "blow up the SIM card," says Andrew Gentile, Bayada's associate director for home health operating policy office.
With a much smaller iPad deployment, Hawthorn Pharmaceuticals uses Fiberlink's Maas 360 software for provisioning and management. The software vendor routinely collects anonymous usage data from customers and shares with them the results, to identify mobile device trends and best practices, says Hawthorn's Director of Information Technology Clay Hilton.
Device management should be somewhat simpler with iOS 5, which added support finally for over-the-air firmware updates directly to the iPad. The last upgrade to Version 5.0 "was extremely painful," Hilton says. The small IT team made use of Fiberlink's Maas 360 software to create and manage configuration profiles and prepared and emailed to users detailed explanations, including screenshots, on how to upgrade to iOS 5. Even so, only half of them were able to do so; the rest of the upgrades had to be handled manually by the IT staff. Hilton expects to avoid all this labor when upgrading this fall to iOS 6.0.
Demanding more from mobile carriers
Enterprises are demanding more from their mobile carriers, as tablets roll out, according to Scott Snyder, president and chief strategy officer for Mobiquity, which specializes in technology services for enterprise mobile projects. "Tablets are on a completely different demand curve for data usage, compared to smartphones," he says.
Bayada negotiated with T-Mobile to minimize or sidestep completely overage charges for cellular data plans. More enterprise accounts are renegotiating data deals, and many are working out pooled plans, which gives more flexibility for employees who might use more or less than the individual monthly limit, according to Snyder. "Five gigabytes for $50 a month is a typical consumer plan," he notes. "But one HD video conference for one hour will take 1 gigabyte. Users with iPad 3's Retina Display will want high definition, but that will drive data usage and charges through the roof."
Another option is negotiating with carriers for Wi-Fi services, so tablet users can make use of Wi-Fi connections when available without cutting into monthly data plans. But Snyder says "right now, Wi-Fi is getting worse and worse, as you can see at an airport." Enterprises need to know what Wi-Fi services their carriers can offer, or support, and how well it performs.
Broken tablets, support costs
One issue starting to emerge for some of these companies is breakage or other tablet failures. "One of my complaints is the fragility of the devices," says Hawthorn's Hilton. "I'm underwhelmed by their durability." After five to 10 iPad screens were broken and shipped out to a third-party depot for $160 worth of repairs each, including shipping, Hilton decided to bring the repairs in-house: so far about 20 of the 120 original devices have run into problems.
"We probably could have bought a more durable case, but I was hesitant to wrap this flash device in something that would make it look like a tank," he says. "I thought we had found a good compromise between convenience and protection." [You can see examples in this GearZap review of rugged cases from OtterBox, Case-Mate, CoolBananas, HardCandy, and Speck CandyShell.]
Bayada has a tablet "break rate" of less than 5%, which hasn't been painful so far, says Andrew Gentile. Users ship a broken device to IT for evaluation, and IT coordinates repairs and replaces the tablet for the user if necessary.
Dealing with broken tablets is only one small part of the related support costs, which involve not only the traditional help desk, but also corporate wireless LAN upgrades (both performance and coverage), administration and provisioning, and even creating a new generation of custom applications that can fully exploit the tablet's strengths.
Support costs are one of the biggest elements in the total cost of ownership for tablets, says Aberdeen's Borg. Enterprises are taking several steps to minimize support headaches. One is simply standardizing on the iPad and on a given set of custom corporate apps to simplify the support issues.
"But the support infrastructure for the [mobile] platform is less mature, compared to the Windows laptop support infrastructure," he says. "At the same time, the iPad platform is more stable. It's also a 'walled garden,' so malware is not yet a major issue. And there are fewer points of vulnerability compared to a Windows PC."
The Ottawa Hospital has a team of roughly 35 support staff caring for 12,000 PCs, but nearly the same number caring for about 3,000 iPads, and that doesn't include application developers, network support staff and others. "It's an indicator that I need to focus some attention on efficiencies, rather than on speed-to-implement," says CIO Potter. "It will be a challenge for years to come."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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