Making the iPad do business

Like it or not, the iPad is making the transition from consumer toy to business tool. But what are the risks?

Apple has sold close to 40 million iPads since April 2010. By the time Christmas rolls around, the figure will be close to 50 million based on current projections. And it's a fair bet that a lot of those iPads are sitting inside the walls of your business. Some may have arrived in the front door but many will have snuck in. Whether we like it or not, as the people who have to make technology work for the business, we need to address their place in the business.  

There are myriad challenges to face. Gartner analyst Nick Jones says that "Adoption is often driven by employee enthusiasm for usability, style and simplicity. However, it raises many new challenges because Apple isn't an "enterprise" vendor". And that's something we've experienced first hand.

As part of an iPad deployment, we built a tool, based on Apple's iPhone OS Enterpise Deployment Guide [PDF link]. The name tells you where Apple puts the business - it hasn't been updated with the name iOS yet. Also, it refers to version 3.2 of iOS and we're now at version 5.0.1.

Part of our deployment process requires that we match the MAC address of the device so that we can then push a profile onto the device that automatically configures email, access to the wireless LAN and security settings such as mandatory passcodes. However, Apple has deprecated the programmatic commands we used. This change was undocumented and not noted anywhere we could find. All we found were other users hit by the same problem.

We put a support call via Apple's developer program. The reposnse - "DTS [Developer Technical Support] does not provide assistance for OTA [Over the Air] Enterprise Deployment. You will need to obtain help via the AppleCare Pay-Per-Incident Phone Support channel". We couldn't even get an answer about whether the programmatic call we were making had been deprecated or changed.

This sort of response does not fill us with confidence with Apple's ability to support enterprise customers.

Gartner's research suggests that enterprise iPad deployments can be cateogrised along a continuum starting at informal programs with employees bringing their own devices at one end of the scale and formal, IT-lead programs at the other. Depending on the purpose of the deployment and culture of the organisation both extremes are viable.

For example, has deployed 1500 iPads with the enterprise, and not IT, funding the purchase. There has been no formal training. Jones says that "the iPad's usability, combined with the relatively simple applications that are typically run on it, means that training is reduced or sometimes nonexistent".

Apparel and accessory manufacturer Billabong took a more traditional approach with a formal pilot undertaken along with traditional risk and benefit assessments. In their words "Mobile doesn't mean throwing away the rules".

Unlike more mature technologies, the iPad presents challenges for corporate IT because it's new and different. In our view, the shift towards tablet technologies is more akin to the shift from mainframes to PCs than from desktops to notebooks. As Jones puts it "Management and security are challenging, not because they're impossible, but because they often demand new tools, policies and even application architectures".

Part of the challenge is that, unlike most IT assets, many iPads are within the network but are owned by staff. That means that traditional management and security tools may not fit the bill. Gartner conducted a study of North American CIOs conducted in March 2011. According to Jones, about half of the respondents felt that the enterpise would own 20% or less of the movile devices would be owned by the business by 2016.

The good news for CIOs is that there's time to prepare. There is a lot of early adopter case study material available and that can be useful is helping CIOs develop the policies and processes required to ensure that corporate data is protected. There's also opportunity to look at deployment tools and methodologies that well provide the balance between control and personalisation.

Where iPads are owned by the business, the thorny question of software licensing and ownership, seems straightforward. However, Apple's Volume Purchasing Program is only available in the United States. So, should employees receive an allowance to purchase Apps? Is it worth locking devices down and blocking App Store access? All of these questions need to be considered.

Perhaps the most important shift that needs to happen is that CIOs need to stop thinking of the iPad as a consumer device and look at it as a personal device. Rather than trying to make it fit a specific corporate mould, it needs to have some boundaries around it but flexibility within those boundaries. That will be a difficult tightrope to walk but who's going to tell the CEO he can't use his iPad in a board meeting?

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