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Notebooks or tablets: Which to choose for mobile workers

A mobile workforce that uses the cloud needs their company to think about end-user segmentation to determine the best devices for their needs.

Choosing the right notebook or tablet for a mobile workforce that relies on the cloud requires thinking beyond the hardware; device decisions need to be based on the platform, applications and end-user behavior.

The line between tablets and notebooks has blurred as the IT industry struggles to define new device segments by the operating system and form factor, and whether devices are detachable units, convertibles or have no keyboards at all. Things will get more confusing when an onslaught of devices become available during the fourth quarter of this year.

In addition, many end users rely on cloud computing to access work and personal data from their various mobile devices, another reason that organizations have to review their mobile strategy and consider cloud-based alternatives to on-premises software.

"The majority of enterprises are Microsoft-backboned, whether it's Exchange or Office 365," said Ryan Reith, program manager for IDC Corp.'s mobility tracker. The productivity gains for mobile workers who use the cloud spans across devices and the ability to work anytime, anywhere with the right files is in high demand.

Choosing the right device

One way for companies to determine whether to outfit their workers with a tablet or notebook is to understand the mobile worker's job.

"It's about end-user segmentation more than ever," said Ira Grossman, chief technology officer (CTO) for MCPc, an IT consulting organization based in Cleveland.

IT departments need to ask questions about whether their mobile workers are on their feet or at a desk, in addition to the time spent consuming or creating content, said Jennifer Langan, director of marketing at Samsung's Enterprise Business in Ridgefield Park, N.J.

As a result, the industry is closely eyeing how end-user segmentation can help companies determine how to outfit workers with the best device and applications to meet their needs. For end users who are highly mobile, a tablet with an add-on keyboard could be the right device. Developers or financial department employees will require the horsepower of a notebook.

The decision to either use a tablet or notebook cannot be made simply by comparing hardware features. The mobile ecosystem requires businesses to review the applications and services available to mobile workers who use the cloud.

IT's decision to purchase either a notebook or tablet must be made in conjunction with the software, Grossman said.

"Even if the software hasn't caught up [in functionality], it will do so before the hardware reaches its end of life," he said.

Create a BYOD policy

Incorporating a bring your own device (BYOD) policy into the organization can alleviate the decision as to whether to outfit a worker with a notebook or tablet. A BYOD policy is especially useful for budget-conscious organizations such as federal and state agencies.

By allowing employees to choose the device they use, BYOD can increase employee satisfaction while decreasing an employer's capital expenditure for new laptops, said Vince Varga, business development manager for mobility at Global Technology Resources in Denver.

Others agree that BYOD is an economical choice.

"The goal is to leverage what [employees] already have," said Raj Subramanian, CIO of the State of Ohio Office of Budget and Management in Columbus, Ohio. His goal has been to provide data and application access to employees by using Appian Corp.'s business process management software products to create custom applications that run on all mobile devices.

Indeed, BYOD and the cloud can provide an organization the boost it needs to ensure workers remain productive but keep costs low. A strong BYOD policy can also address IT's concerns over securing company data that resides in the cloud.

Mobile workers already using the cloud for personal file storage may copy company files to their own personal cloud service, not to steal a company's data, but to be more productive and efficient outside the office.

Some organizations have gone through the exercise for determining company data's safety and have set up policies for how to keep data secure whether the cloud is private, public or hybrid.

"[Security is] not so much a problem, but a problem of perception that you need to address," Subramanian said. "More education needs to be there."

Devices aid collaboration

How end users interact with the technology and each other is important, whether an organization outfits their mobile workforce with a notebook PC or tablet, or allows them to bring their own.

"Collaboration is big," said Paul Moore, vice president of mobile products for Fujitsu PC in Sunnyvale, Calif. When end users are able to place an order that automatically syncs to a company's back-end inventory system, the process is simplified for workers.

Tablets combined with geolocation technology can provide increased productivity to workers in the field, such as technicians, insurance adjusters and even Starbucks store inspectors, said Michael Beckley, co-founder and CTO of Appian. For instance, with geolocation technology and tablets, Starbucks store inspectors in the field can see what others are doing in real time and see what kinds of issues may arise based on each inspection.

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