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Making a case for tablets in the enterprise: Where they make sense

Everyone's talking about tablets, and while these touch screen devices aren't an alternative to desktops, in certain cases, they can be handy in the enterprise.

The world is buzzing about tablets. These keyboardless handheld devices are large enough to work on for an extended time, but they're also small and light enough to be portable. As the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy start appearing in more consumer hands, you might be wondering what these tablets mean for the enterprise -- and how you should respond when users start clamoring for them.

Where do tablets make sense? At this point in time, you will get the best bang for your organization's buck in three areas: video and Web conferencing, sales applications, and data entry.

Video and Web conferencing
Since tablets provide stunning visuals and a rich media experience in a portable platform, they're ideal for conferencing users. The tiny screens on mobile phones haven't been a big boon for video and Web conferencing, but a 9.7-in. full-color iPad display, for example, makes it much easier to put a face with a name. Combine this display with the ability to share documents and Web sessions, and you have a compelling solution via a simple wireless connection, rather than a bunch of cables, video ports, RGB cords and a nonmobile footprint. Tablets let you conference in your office, in a briefing room, in a coffee shop or almost anywhere else with Wi-Fi.

Your sales team is already full of mobile veterans. They are always on the road, and they need a conferencing and presentation tool as well as a device that can assist with simple data entry like putting proposals and orders into a customer relationship management (CRM) system. In addition, tablets are attractive to people who spend large swaths of time on planes, and combining a sales tool with a productivity device is a winning mix for sales and client-service teams. For even more productivity, consider tablets with the 3G chip -- especially useful for road warriors.

Data entry 
Users who work with inventory and other specialized applications probably already have specific devices. However, the clerical staffers and workers who deal with back-office data entry, CRM or accounting systems, blogs, profiles or wikis can take advantage of tablets' portability. Obviously, tablets aren't great for dictation, detailed spreadsheet work, or letter or other content creation, but they provide a unique way to manage bits and bytes of information and keep systems updated.

Despite the popularity and potential usefulness of tablets, they're not wholesale desktop replacements. The lack of a physical keyboard prevents many users from getting real work done. Furthermore, current tablets don't run Windows and therefore can't participate in managed network policies such as Group Policy. This makes them difficult to administer and secure.

Regardless, senior staffers in your organization will probably ask you about tablets soon -- if they haven't already. It makes sense for these members of your team to be a "pilot" group so you can have a sense of how tablets will interact with your business' systems and processes.

Over the next year, prepare yourself to answer an onslaught of access and procurement questions from legions of users who see tablets in use in many scenarios in their daily lives. Since the Microsoft tablet seems a long way away, look for tablets that have the best chance of integrating with your existing back-end systems and for tablet operating systems with strong management and security features.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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