Aug 18 2011

How iPads Are Changing Businesses

Businesses find a variety of ways to boost productivity with the iPad.

NewDominion Bank is serious about service. This innovative 40-person financial institution based in Charlotte, N.C., has done away with the traditional notions of bank branches and bankers, and instead is using Apple iPads to reach out with gusto to both employees and customers.

To gain efficiencies, Sonja Allison, NewDominion’s assistant vice president and network administrator, has implemented virtual desktops using Citrix XenDesktop 5, pairing that with a Citrix Access Gateway. By adding iPads to the mix, employees are now able to access their office workstations from wherever their job takes them.

NewDominion’s operations have become more streamlined with the adoption of iPads. Instead of requiring users to go through extra steps to set up VPN access, the Citrix Access Gateway, coupled with a Citrix plug-in on the iPad, makes new deployments much simpler.

“You pretty much load the plug-in on the tablet, log in with your regular user name and password, and launch a desktop,” Allison says. “Then you’re back into the network, working on your workstation as if you were in the office.”

NewDominion not only is helping its own employees with its use of iPads, but it’s also looking for ways to benefit its customers, such as sending employees with a tablet and possibly a small portable printer to visit clients.

“They can actually talk to the customer, open an account, do everything they need to do, and print their documents while they’re there at that person’s place of business, residence [or] wherever they are,” Allison says. “They can basically take care of that person, from start to finish, without having to have the person come into the office.”

Such service would save customers the time of coming into a branch office, which Allison says is especially useful for small-business clients who otherwise may have to close up shop to make the trip. “We’re putting a spin on what the typical tablet use is,” she says.

Although Allison likes the tablet’s lower cost, some members of her team still use notebook computers, so she’s carefully evaluating the staff’s efficiency on both devices. She’s also updating the bank’s ­Microsoft Exchange Server to 2010 to enable the tablets to use ActiveSync for e-mail, which may provide a more attractive solution for employees looking for a quicker way to check messages without using the Citrix plug-in.

With the recent growth of the tablet market, Dan Shey, enterprise practice director at ABI Research, says, “I foresee the tablet replacing the laptop for mobile use, with the laptop staying in its cradle more often.”

He points to the dramatically improved mobile app market, where a business can get applications built for any OS platform, stating, “The supplier base for apps is large, and companies simply need to identify the work processes that could most benefit from a tablet equipped with the right line-of-business app.”

Less Paper, More Collaboration

Researchers at Children’s Hospital ­Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, Calif., have a lot of information to take in. CHORI team members review each other’s work and read numerous articles and research documents, as well as writing their own grant and journal papers. That’s where this highly collaborative environment’s use of the iPad comes in.

Worldwide sales of iOS media tablets are expected to increase from 14.7 million in 2010 to 138.4 million in 2015. 
SOURCE: Gartner

“One of the main things they are using them for is the ability to eliminate the massive quantities of paper that they were dealing with before,” says Ben Hanes, senior systems analyst at CHORI. Employees were copying and printing tons of documents, a practice that has dropped dramatically with their use of the PDF-friendly iPads. “You can load as many as you want on there,” Hanes says. “You can read them and annotate them, save them and print them off of your device. It makes it a whole lot easier than having to carry around reams of paper.”

All those documents are stored and managed with mobile file management software, which plugs into a back-end storage system. Hanes says the combination provides the perfect way for researchers to securely connect to their data.

E-mail, contacts and calendar are handled through CommuniGate Pro with ActiveSync. “We’ve been using this server for many, many years,” Hanes says, adding that it’s been remarkably stable.

CHORI’s staff has also found iPads useful for note-taking and brainstorming, and the tablet’s lower profile, which doesn’t block faces or wall off participants during meetings, makes for more engaging discussions. The team is considering deploying other brands of tablets in the future, and the devices’ usability and portability could lead to reduced hardware costs down the road.

“We’re seeing some people who are getting to the point where they may not need another computer,” Hanes says. “They don’t need a laptop along with a desktop when the tablet is adequate to do all of the things they are looking to do, and the costs there are a whole lot less. Initially we didn’t think that was going to be possible.”

On-the-Fly Management

Property management is an inherently mobile industry, and the 200 employees at Princeton Properties Management, based in Lowell, Mass., are no exception. Staff members are away from their desks for much of the day as they meet with prospective residents, tour available apartments and maintain properties. Sarah Greenough, Princeton’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, says the iPad was a natural fit for her team. “With the iPad, the mobility of it could be applied to our business.”

Greenough’s team uses the iPad for internal operations as well as customer-oriented activities. “They can take the iPad with them, and whichever conversation happens to start at any point during the relationship, they’re able to have better and more accurate information, not only about us but about the neighborhood at large,” she says. “We can also collect rents, and when we’re walking the properties, we can submit work orders on the fly.”

Princeton’s in-house processes had several redundancies; for example, paperwork was generated, entered into a master system and then printed in reports. By allowing users to access its Property Solutions tenant management software via the iPad, ­Princeton has eliminated those redundancies.

Employees also can share videos, photos and floor plans of properties with potential residents, and use their iPads to maintain corporate Facebook pages. The deployment required Princeton to set up wireless networks in its leasing offices that are separate from the free Wi-Fi offered to residents, but Greenough believes the improvements in customer service make up for the increased back-end costs.

“If we’re able to solve a lot of their problems — not just leasing problems, but a lot of the issues of where to go shopping, where to eat, those kinds of things — then we’re better,” she says. She says she was drawn to the iPad’s user-friendliness and its ability to integrate with iTunes. “We’re a very visual product, with pictures and YouTube videos, and I like the ‘visualness’ of [the iPad],” she adds.

Shey of ABI Research believes that tablets offer increased efficiency in a range of scenarios. “Any customer-facing employee can use tablets to present products and services through a presentation or even with videos accessed over YouTube,” he says. He feels that tablets’ larger screens offer advantages over smartphones when viewing content, and their instant-on capabilities may make them preferable to notebooks.

“I consider 2011 the year the tablet becomes an official tool sanctioned by a broad range of businesses,” Shey says.

Bryan Regan

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