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Tablets on the boardroom table

Corporate adoption of mobile technology picking up pace

by Jad Hajj

With the explosive growth in demand for smartphones and notebook computers in recent years, it is hard to believe that corporate technology users are still finding room in their bags and attachés for yet another device. The rising popularity of tablet computers, though, suggests they are somehow finding a way.

Although corporate demand for tablets is still low relative to consumer demand, it is already significant — and rising rapidly. Global market research firm IDC sees worldwide demand for tablets and other Internet mobile devices rising sharply in coming years, from 41 million units in 2011 to 235 million units in 2016. A significant driver of this growth, according to IDC, are corporations, which are seen doubling their share of tablet purchases to nearly 10 percent of total shipments in 2015, up from about 5 percent in 2010. Apple, for its part, claims that its iPad tablet is being used or tested at 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies. In the Middle East and North Africa, technology-consulting firm Ovum sees growth doubling in 2012 alone, from two million units to four million, and rising to 11 million by 2016. A recent IDC survey found that roughly half of all Internet users said they plan on buying a tablet in the near future.

In hopes of gaining a better idea of what is driving the popularity of tablets in the business world, Booz & Company and Motorola recently undertook a global research effort, interviewing chief information officers (CIOs) from a wide variety of companies. Three factors stood out. 

First, much of the interest in tablet computers is due to the ongoing consumerization of corporate information technology (IT), as more and more employees insist on using their favorite devices in the workplace. IT departments are scrambling to put in place new IT infrastructure and policies to run and manage these devices. CIOs have needed to devise programs and processes that support workers who bring personal devices — not just tablets but also smartphones — into the office and use them in their regular work activities. Some companies have even gone so far as to give employees an allowance to buy the devices they prefer.

Mobility is a second factor, as more companies recognize the value in empowering employees to consume content — check e-mail, review PowerPoint presentations, manipulate downloaded sales data — on the go. Very few notebook computers are mobile broadband-enabled (less than 10 percent, according to our estimates), compared to roughly half of tablets. Our CIO interviews suggest that mobile broadband tablets are being strongly considered as alternatives. 

Finally, there are the added security benefits that mobile broadband offers over Wi-Fi connectivity, including the ability to erase a tablet’s sensitive data remotely, if necessary. “We need encryption at rest [data physically stored in an encrypted manner], policy enforcement via active sync, remote data wiping, encryption, and associated policies,” a CIO at a global workforce firm told us. “It is all basic stuff, but it needs to be supported out of the box.”

In the coming years, enterprises in the MENA region will be further investing in information and communication technologies (ICT) as they strive to catch up with their counterparts elsewhere. Although enterprises account for as much as 6.5 percent of all mobile SIMs in some European countries, they have not even reached one percent in any country in the MENA region. By some estimates, the size of the MENA enterprise ICT market will almost double over the next five years, from an estimated $14.8 billion in value in 2010 to $26.1 billion in 2015. 

The next two to three years will see a very interesting battle for the corporate share of mobile device spending, and CIOs in the region will need to think about what part tablet computers will play in their overall ICT strategy. Cost, of course, will be top of the list. A current major drawback of the iPad is its relatively high price, which is difficult to justify if the device is to be used in conjunction with both smart phones and laptops. Other cheaper tablets have not gained sufficient momentum in the corporate market, but this may change, as developers create more business-oriented apps and companies develop their own. 

The extent to which MENA enterprises adopt tablet computers may also depend on other factors that lead to benefits that are harder to quantify but should still be part of a CIO’s calculations for return on investment. Among them: 

Structured creation: Tablets’ initial use in enterprises is primarily centered on applications where mobility matters and where content is consumed rather than created. The new frontier of mobile productivity will be driven by what the industry terms “structured creation,” in which users can enter information in standard methods, such as drop-down menus. This results in data sets that can be easily compiled and analyzed, meaning faster processing of data and gathering of insights. In the MENA region, increasing Arabic language support for tablets — along with greater numbers of Arabic-language applications — will drive this kind of structured creation. 

Unanticipated productivity gains: Because tablets can significantly increase employees’ connectivity, they will likely result in higher productivity as employees respond to questions faster, review materials more frequently, and plan work activities in advance. An IDC survey shows that 40 percent of UAE organizations have deployed mobile devices to at least 10 percent of their employees for work purposes. 

Increased retention: Consumer technology is taking over every facet of people’s lives. Employees want access to the newest and best technology at work because they most likely are using something even more cutting-edge at home. Providing employees with new technology to help them become even more productive can boost retention by improving their engagement with the company. 

Unexpected creativity from employees: In their push to persuade management to invest in tablets, employees will likely search far and wide for new ways of using them, in order to justify the costs. Those engaged in sales demonstrations have found that the tablets provide a level of interaction not previously possible. Client response is stronger, and salesmen report better results, suggesting that companies will need to be open to evolving applications of the technology. 

Competitive advantage: Inevitably, the use of tablets will become standard in virtually every industry. Companies that can devise new applications and uses for tablets may be able to gain real advantage over competitors. Tablets can offer an advantage in industries where it may be important for customers to see that the company is on the cutting edge of technology. CIOs should consider whether there are ways the workforce interacts with customers that could be standardized through the adoption of tablets to improve customer perceptions of the company.

With manufacturers releasing more advanced tablets every month, the increasing use of these devices in the business world is not likely to slow down anytime soon. In the MENA region, senior managers are driving technology purchase decisions much more actively because of their own at-home use of tablets and other devices. CIOs in the MENA region are responding to this interest from senior managers and are seeking to ensure support of the new devices in corporate environments. Understanding how tablets are evolving — and how they are likely to benefit enterprises in the years to come — can help position enterprises and their employees on the leading edge of this technological change.

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