iPad in the enterprise: 3 big worries remain

Like a sucker punch, the iPad's popularity has taken the enterprise by surprise. Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler recently held a teleconference with 241 IT pros to talk about the impact the iPad and other tablets may have on their organizations.

Did they have questions? You bet.

Of the 15 million iPads on the street, Forrester figures half make their way to work. Forrester released results of a survey of 2,300 IT executives last week that shows one out of four companies using or planning to use tablets.

These figures are sure to rise given the hugely successful iPad 2 debut earlier this month. Demand continues to outstrip supply, with Apple stores selling out of their daily iPad shipments within an hour. Global rollout this week has been impressive, too.

There's no question iPad productivity apps are gaining momentum, such as QuickOffice, DocuSign, SoundNote and Salesforce Chatter. One company plans to upgrade senior executives to the iPad 2 so they can leverage a new feature on the device: high-def video projector mirroring output.

The enterprise embrace of the iPad has happened quickly, even surprising Apple. "I've never seen an adoption rate on the enterprise side like this in my life," said Apple COO Tim Cook late last year, well before the iPad 2 hit the market.

Such fast enterprise adoption--a trend largely driven by employees--often leaves companies feeling more than a little panicked. Here are three pressing questions about the iPad, based on Forrester's research:

What's the business benefit?

Let's face it: Making an ROI (return on investment) case for a major iPad spend could be a tough job for a CIO. Even Forrester's Shadler admits the business benefits are "still materializing." But there are signs that the iPad does improve productivity, especially in areas where perception matters--board meetings, sales presentations, and field service engagements.

"We have heard this from almost every major company: It makes you and your IT organization look great when you can give your C-level staff and board of directors an iPad instead of handing them a 400-page binder," writes Schadler in a research note.

At Conceptus, a Silicon Valley medical device manufacturer, nearly every executive (as well as salespeople) has an iPad. One top executive rarely touches the iPad, while the head of legal uses it every day. She always brings the iPad to meetings where she's often asked a legal question. Rather than sift through reams of paper notes, she quickly finds answers on the iPad.

CIO Rob Rennie of Florida State College at Jacksonville, an early adopter of the iPad, has witnessed first-hand solid productivity gains action. In a budget meeting, for instance, department executives with iPads now answer questions about the cost of impromptu items on the spot. Money is allocated or denied based on the real-time information during the meeting, rather than the issue being tabled to another meeting weeks later.

What's the status of security?

Apple has made the iPad 2 pretty darn secure, says Forrester. Many companies with strict security requirements have jumped on the iPad bandwagon, such as Lloyd's of London, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase.

Forrester also expects the upcoming RIM PlayBook to have top-notch security, perhaps besting the iPad. Forrester's take: iPads and PlayBooks are safe enough for most business scenarios.

What about Android tablets? Not so much. Forrester says Android lags about 18 months behind Apple. When it comes to security, it'll be a two-horse race between iPad and PlayBook, with Android far behind, Schadler says. Does this mean Android tablets aren't ready for enterprise primetime?

"While they are much less secure, you can't put a blanket statement on it because companies have different security requirements," Schadler says.

Do we have enough bandwidth?

More than security, the strain iPads will put on wireless networks has everyone concerned. There's simply not enough mobile broadband bandwidth available. While moving from 3G to 4G will help, Schadler says, "It won't take many FaceTime video chats for the thing to drag down to a halt."

On the 3G side, this means a company might not be able to deliver mission-critical iPad apps to mobile workers when they need them.

On the WiFi side, companies will have to ramp up their capacity. It's already expensive to provide WiFi access points for all the employees that want to wirelessly connect to the network on their laptops.

CIOs have been coming up with ways to throttle down the strain on the wireless network, such as limiting the use of desktop video and Youtube streaming. Now iPads, which can only connect wirelessly, along with Apple's FaceTime video chat, will only exacerbate the problem.

"If you're a company," Schadler says, "you're worried."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

Tags business issuesApplehardware systemslaptopstablet PCs

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Tom Kaneshige

CIO (US)

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