Surviving the Arrival of Pad-Computing – The Impact to Enterprise Computing, Cloud Usage, and IT Asset Management

By Ed Cartier, xAssets

It seems hard to believe, but as of this writing pad-computing, as we know it, has only been with us for 10 months. True, some tablet devices were introduced years ago, only to suffer slow market acceptance and a very short product lifespan. Then, the iPad® came along in April of 2010. In less than a year, the device has spawned an entire industry, complete with competing devices and operating systems, a new software business model, new software applications, accessories and analysts’ predictions.

Speaking of predictions, there seems to be a growing consensus that pad-computers will out sell laptops by the middle of 2012, and that pad-computers will almost wholly displace netbook computers. This change seems logical in light of recent history, but for those predictions to bear fruit, the corporate buyer will most likely have to be a large part of that adoption process. With that in mind, let’s look at how and why pad-computers make sense in the enterprise, and what their implementation will mean to IT professionals and IT Asset Managers in particular.

The Ultimate Weapon For The Road Warrior

Anyone who is away from the office for any period of time or regularity, whether that person is a member of the sales staff, an on-site engineer, a customer service rep or a traveling executive, benefit from using a pad computer. That is especially true for employees of companies that leverage the cloud or web-based applications. Pad-computers are specifically designed to work over the web and companies using cloud-based or web-enabled applications achieve real synergies using pad-computers. Some examples of frequent activities that deliver this value include:

  • Sales staff updating CRM records using a SaaS application
  • Updating sales order status using a web-enabled order entry system
  • Customer service reps updating service call data and scheduling new appointments
  • Just about anyone checking and responding to email from any Wi-Fi enabled location or anywhere that cell service is available

Moreover, with applications like Skype® available, the pad becomes a communications center, facilitating conference calls, instant messaging and virtual meetings in almost any location. Pad-computers could easily replace laptops for the mobile worker, with the added advantage of being easier to use, carry and support.

Cost Savings and Improved Security

At first glance, the price for pad-computers and laptop computers are not all that different. However, the similarity ends with the cost of the device. The cost of applications for a laptop far exceeds those for a pad computer, with a good deal of fully functional software available for pad-computers at very low prices or at no cost at all. There are also fewer maintenance issues with pad-computers, as they are less complex when compared to laptops. Battery life is extended compared to a laptop, as they have no mechanical devices or motors to drain power. In short, overall total cost of ownership is lower for pad-computers than it is for laptops.

The most significant difference between the device types is that little data is typically stored on a pad-computer. Unlike laptops, pad-computers store data in the cloud or on a removable memory card. Consequently, the risk of a lost or stolen pad-computer yielding sensitive corporate or customer information is reduced or eliminated. If a laptop goes missing, so does the data on the hard drive. If a pad-computer is lost or stolen, all that is gone is the device, a “favorites” or contact list and whatever apps that may have been loaded onto the device. Logins and passwords can be changed almost immediately. Important data remains secure behind a cloud-provider firewall, a corporate data center, or safely ensconced on an SD chip, which remains in the possession of the original owner.

But What About Control?

In a way, pad-computers present the same challenges to the Intellectual Property (IP) professional and IT Asset Manager as PCs did in the early nineteen eighties. Originally, PCs were non-networked, stand-alone devices that were not controlled by the existing management structure and policies of the day. CIOs had little direct control. Users were able to install applications and use the device for non-business purposes. The portability added the problem of easy use off-premises. Each of these issues is applicable to the pad-computer technology transition unless the company takes some precautions before distributing the devices.

Just like when PCs were introduced into the office, a use policy should precede the purchase and deployment of pad-computers. Some points to consider for inclusion in a use policy are:

  • Limitations on use of the device
  • A list of permitted apps
  • The actions that will be taken to insure the use and security of the device
  • Conditions under which the pad-computer must be returned or updated

Additionally, an update on the loss and theft reporting policy may be required. Procedures should also be set, providing the ground rules and expectations regarding the use and care of the pad-computers before introducing them into the mix of IT supported devices.

But, you may ask, how can I really enforce these policies? Luckily, there are some built-in features that help the IT Asset Manager control the use of the devices and control what apps, if any, are installed. As the iPad® is the best known and best-selling pad-computer, it will serve as an example. The iPad® is sold with parental controls as a standard feature, and it is probably reasonable to assume that its competitors will also have this feature. Just as the parent of a teenage user can control what the device can access, so can the IT Asset Manager control access. Assuming that the device is a corporate asset, one method of preventing unauthorized software or software not on the company’s list of licensed applications is to pre-load the pads with approved apps and then, using a set of password protected entries, turn off the download feature. Specific websites can also be blocked by using the controls to block content areas. By taking the time to implement these simple controls before issuing the device, the IT Asset Manager avoids potential problems with regard to use of unauthorized apps or inappropriate use of corporate assets.

Controlling the apps loaded onto the pad-computers also enhances overall security. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a significant number of apps intended for use on smart phones actually interrogate the device and upload contact lists, and even the device’s unique identifier, to a site which then makes that information available to marketers. There is no reason to believe that this practice will not be extended to pad-computers. Any corporate information, even data as seemingly benign as a phone list, needs to be protected. Preventing uncontrolled downloads of apps is one way to secure any information stored on the device.

Another method is to only enable the devices to access cloud or browser-based applications supported by the IT department, excluding use of any downloaded apps. Of course, this method requires including the pad-computers in the count of licensed users of any applications that are licensed on a user or concurrent user basis. Such a practice enables the IT Asset Manager to have complete control over how the pad-computers are used.

Treating the pad-computer as an asset means that critical information about the device is stored in the company’s CMDB or asset repository. This information includes, but is not limited to; model, serial number, restrictions password, loaded apps, to whom the pad-computer was issued and when. Such records become invaluable when changing restriction settings, recovering devices from personnel who become separated from the company and changing login and password information for lost or stolen units.

The Next Wave

Pad-computers will undoubtedly be the next wave of technology to hit the IT department. Rather than waiting for the end-users to start the process, IT Asset Managers should take the initiative now to develop policies, define standards and select the devices and apps that will most benefit the corporation. Pad-computers, the mobile workforce and cloud computing are not going away anytime soon and a sound plan anticipating their use in the corporate environment will pay significant dividends in the future.