Small businesses are lagging behind larger ones in adopting tablet computers, and it’s costing them in terms of lost productivity and cost savings. That’s the message of a 2012 survey of more than a thousand IT decision makers that found 47 percent of companies with fewer than 100 employees were using tablets, compared with 62 percent of larger companies.
FirstPerson, a 38-person benefits consulting firm in Indianapolis, is one of the minority of small business employers that has embraced tablets. Mike Bensi, account executive, says about a dozen staff members who meet clients outside the office carry iPads loaded with an internally developed app that replaces pencil and paper with a checklist for gathering information.
“Rather than having handwritten notes and waiting a day for an e-mail to go out, it can be on the checklist for all to see,” Bensi says.
In the survey, conducted for IT solutions provider CDW Corp., sales was the most common business use for tablets, reported by nearly half. More than a third used tablets to replace printed materials, and just under a third used them for workgroup collaboration. Three out of five ran the Apple iOS system on their tablets, while Android devices were used by a quarter of respondents. Less than 1 in 10 used BlackBerry OS tablets.
Almost 75 percent of respondents say tablets have boosted productivity, “This belief is held across all customer segments,” reports Neal Campbell, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at CDW. “Seventy-five percent of large business, 76 percent of medium business, 70 percent of small business and 71 percent of government decision-makers reported that productivity has increased,” he says. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of respondents say their companies had saved money by using tablets.
The Missing Link
Given the widely reported benefits of tablet adoption, it’s worth asking why small businesses aren’t jumping on board. Vince Plaza, vice president of IT consulting company TeamLogicIT (based in Mission Viejo, California), says his company sees many small-business owners purchasing tablets for personal use but using them only occasionally for business. “That’s normally limited to people accessing things like e-mail and some documents,” Plaza says.
One reason for the low adoption rate is that tablets aren’t well-suited to many business activities. Lacking keyboards, mice and other input devices common to PCs, they are much better at consuming information than creating it. While they can shine at displaying electronic sales brochures and can handle limited data entry such as FirstPerson’s checklist app, they lack capability for tasks such as filling out spreadsheets and crafting lengthy text documents.
The biggest obstacle keeping more small businesses from doing more with tablets is a shortage of appropriate apps, Plaza says. “If they don’t have an application that makes it easy for them to do their business on the mobile devices, they’ll stick to using a traditional PC.”
So far, bigger organizations are being better served by software developers when it comes to apps, Plaza adds. Bigger organizations also are more likely to have bigger IT departments that can handle the security and support challenges of introducing a new class of mobile devices into the IT infrastructure.
Security, in particular, is a critical issue. CDW’s “IT Monitor” survey found nearly half of small businesses have not beefed up security after putting tablets to work. “That should be a concern to businesses that value their proprietary information,” Campbell says.
Even if software companies aren’t attending to all their needs, and they lack dedicated IT personnel to help manage the devices, small companies can do a lot with tablets. For instance, Plaza says medical professionals have been generally well-served by software developers, who have created a number of useful apps to help doctors making rounds and performing other tasks take advantage of tablets.
Uses involving strictly display of information are also an easy introduction to tablet computing. Plaza says one small aviation-related client issues tablets to pilots instead of printed manuals. “The pilots are told that the manuals they use are going to be on iPads,” he says. “They’re consuming all that information on iPads.”
Small businesses may also be able to develop basic apps that can help them take advantage of tablets. FirstPerson’s app consists of a simple fillable form that has a checklist account executives can use to record information about clients. Bensi says their in-house IT professional developed it using feedback from the company’s staff.
Plaza suggests tracking the activities of salespeople as an early entry point for tablets. “If you had an app that makes it easy to enter that information into your CRM system, then it’s compelling for you to do that,” he says.
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