Aside from a few niches, including publishing, Apple hasn't been a huge player in the business market. For the past 20 years or so, small businesses have mostly chosen Windows-based PCs over Macs -- and Macs are, after all, more expensive.
Although it's unlikely that any major changes are in store, Apple has opened a new front in the small-business market with the iPad. While many competing players head for the tablet-PC market, the iPad is the dominant player -- with a user base of 17 million.
The iPad in Small Business: Benefit
At least some of those users are small-business customers. In keeping with trends of recent years, though, end users in your organization and other small businesses are more likely to employ their iPad for both business and home use. With its keyboard-less form, the iPad isn't likely to replace an office desktop PC; more likely, it will augment your end users' desktop PC and fill a role somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop.
Nevertheless, the iPad has its advantages in a business setting. Consider these:
It helps you go green
Since the devices are meant to be toted around and shared, you can eliminate paper memos, notes and the like. Your business can cut paper costs and add green-initiative bonus points.
It offers flexibility
The nimbleness of the iPad creates possibilities for depth in presentations, particularly away from an office setting. It can perform tasks that might have been clunky with a standard laptop, like monitoring core business functions on the go and giving sales presentations. "If going out to, say, show or discuss a property with a potential client or show some photos, it seems like a great way to enrich the interaction," says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.
It saves you IT time
The iPad's accessibility can save IT hours, as you'd now need to spend less time assisting less tech-savvy end users. The iPad can be employed for targeted tasks by workers who might not ordinarily use a laptop or PC, such as warehouse employees managing inventory.
It increases productivity
There may also be an unintended advantage to bringing the iPad into a small business environment: Because the device currently only runs one app at a time, it makes multitasking much harder, which, statistics show, could actually improve workers' output.
That's right: In addition to saving paper and dazzling potential clients, the iPad may make employees in your organization more productive.
The iPad in Small Business: Security Risks
That said, the iPad, like most mobile devices, presents a bit of risk in a business environment. "The fundamental issue with the iPad is if you're storing data on it, the system itself is fairly weak at keeping data secure," says Jack E. Gold, president and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.
Nevertheless, Gold says that security risks for the iPad are relatively minimal. There is always the danger of losing a mobile device, and there's the remote possibility users could download viruses through applications. You can take a number of steps to secure data on the iPad, including:
Require pass-code usage. Too often, mobile device users never bother to use a pass code. Apple lets you set strict pass-code policies.
Use the remote wipe command. This ensures that after a number of failed pass-code attempts, the access key to the device's data is wiped.
Restrict use. You can prohibit end users from visiting certain sites such as YouTube or from installing apps through the iTunes store.
Keep up with updates. Make sure you install updates from Apple as the company patches vulnerabilities.
For most IT departments, it's not a matter of whether you'll support iPad use. It's a matter of meeting the demand of end users who want to use it for business purposes. It's up to IT to make sure that use doesn't compromise security.
Todd Wasserman is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Adweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Business 2.0 and Inc.
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