Case Studies

Tablets Give Mobile Workers an Edge

Early adopters of the tablet PC share what has worked for them.
This story appears in the December 2011 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Tablets Give Mobile Workers an Edge
Andrew Ungureanu of intaBORO says tablet PCs saved the company $500,000 this year in communications costs.
Credit: Matthew Furman

For intaBORO, a small, 44-year-old company that delivers black-car transportation services in the New York City region, success is almost completely contingent on how well its dispatchers can communicate with drivers. For years, the company relied on a sophisticated and expensive two-way car radio system to schedule pickups. But when tablet PCs hit the market last year, officials decided it was time for something more cutting-edge. It was time for a tablet upgrade.

A little more than six months ago, intaBORO deployed 250 Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets to its drivers along with a custom dispatch application. “The hardest part was getting the program created,” says System Manager Andrew Ungureanu. “The tablets were no issue. They just work.”

Now, instead of picking up a radio receiver, a driver picks up the Galaxy Tab and logs in. When a new job comes in, the dispatcher transmits the information wirelessly to the driver, who can immediately send back receipt of acceptance.

“It’s so much easier and better and faster,” says Ungureanu, noting that ­intaBORO will save about $500,000 this year because it no longer incurs equipment and maintenance costs for its old radio system.

“The driver can get directions to the address if he needs it,” Ungureanu adds. “If their passenger is going to the airport, the driver can go online and check to see if the flight will be on time. If the driver is waiting for a long time, they can look at online newspapers or play a game on the tablet. They don’t have to worry about missing calls because the tablet is always with them. Everyone is much happier now.”

The intaBORO experience illustrates how simple it is to bring tablet technology on board. But small and medium-sized businesses that have adopted these devices warn that they are not without their challenges, mainly in security and formatting.

For a smooth integration, business owners, IT officials and technology experts suggest these best practices.

1. Rely on Traditional IT Practices

As with any computing platform, tablets deployed en masse must be managed to ensure security and consistency. A custom intaBORO dispatch application sits on a server at company headquarters, and Ungureanu relies on its mobile-device management function to force drivers to use strong passwords and change them frequently, and to push out security patches.

“If I want my users to have a certain program, I just set it up and send it out as an e-mail, so all they have to do is hit the button to download it,” he says, adding that the company relies on virtual private networks to safeguard transmissions. “And on my side, I can see if the progam’s been installed or not.”

If a tablet is stolen or lost, which is always a worry with mobile devices, Ungureanu can just go online and deactivate it. “It’s all really simple,” he says.

2. Maximize Security

Whether companies buy tablets or let employees use their own devices, they need to develop group policies to define what is and isn’t allowed, assign responsibilities for security and guarantee adequate data protection. Mobile-device management tools help enforce these policies. In cases where company data needs to be stored on a consumer-grade or employee-owned device, sandboxing should be used, says Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner.

What's the Use of Tablets?

Learn more about the ways businesses are putting tablets to work.

Sandboxes are containers that isolate and protect data by preventing company-owned data and applications from interacting with anything else on the device. Similarly, a sandbox prevents user-owned data or applications (and malware) from accessing or corrupting the company data. “There are a growing number of sandboxing tools. They are critical for ensuring that company and personal information doesn’t become co-mingled,” Fiering says.

3. Start Slow

Eric Jackson, a champion freestyle kayaker and president of Jackson Kayak, a 120-employee company that manufactures whitewater kayaks in Sparta, Tenn., says he had no technical issues implementing iPads but does suggest that businesses introduce tablets as a supplemental technology first. That way, employees can play with the devices and work out the best ways to use them.

 

Business Benefits of Tablets

 

Businesses that have incorporated tablets say they’ve already seen a return on their investment, citing these benefits:

  • Increased sales through improved sales capability
  • Happier, more motivated, more productive employees
  • Increased communications, leading to improved quality and efficiency
  • Improved reputation as a cutting-edge company
  • An ability to have the business “in hand” at all times

Jackson uses an iPad and an iPhone for his own communi­cations, web browsing and other daily tasks, and he provided Apple tablets to his factory managers so they could more efficiently manage product flow, work orders, quality control and shipping.

“Find out how they are using them, and then meet on a monthly basis to compare notes and assemble best practices,” ­Jackson says. “Then, get everyone using the apps that really work.”

For example, Jackson Kayak employees now use the iPad’s camera to take pictures and video of the manufacturing process and products, much of which has been used as part of the company’s marketing strategy. “We are making more sales because of that,” Jackson states.

4. Have a Backup Plan

Cindy Tollen, owner of Sudz N Bubbles, an El Paso, Texas, retailer of soap products, uses an iPad as a mobile cash register, both when she sells products at trade shows and festivals and in her own store. By relying on Square, a free mobile payment-processing application, she can swipe credit cards more efficiently. Occasionally, though, she has run into some snags. Connectivity, for example, can be an issue when she attends shows in areas without 3G coverage. “Life’s all about Plan B, right? So I always have the old ‘knuckle buster’ [a manual credit card processor] as a backup,” she says.

Another challenge is that the Square application requires an electronic signature and produces only an electronic sales receipt. That can be an issue for some of Tollen’s customers, who may not text or have an e-mail address or are simply not comfortable leaving the store without that paper receipt in hand.

“Most customers think the iPad is pretty cool, and it can be a real conversation piece, but if someone has an issue, I’ll give them a cash register receipt,” she says. “You have to be flexible.”

5. Be Realistic

Businesses have to understand that tablets are still limited, Fiering notes. An unexpected issue is fidelity, which can lead to changes in documents when switching between a tablet and a notebook. The errors can be as simple as a change in typeface or loss of bullets, or as serious as a change in spreadsheet formulas and sums.

“You have to check up front to see what fonts and formats are covered, be prepared to do some remediation and workarounds, and recognize that in some instances you may not be able to go back and forth between platforms,” she says. “It’s an issue that does surprise a lot of companies.”

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