Consider this: At the beginning of the day you’ve got two computing devices sitting in front of you, a laptop and an iPad. Which do you turn to first?
The laptop’s undoubtedly more powerful, but to use it, you’ll likely need to press the power button, wait a few minutes for it to fire up, wait a few more minutes for various programs to load, then take a few more minutes to find what you’re looking for. The iPad, on the other hand, sips energy ever so slowly and hardly ever needs to be powered down. Everything is easily accessible with the touch of a finger, and apps launch almost instantaneously. And, as portable as the laptop is, the iPad is even more so.
So – don’t think too much about it – which do you reach for? There’s a good chance that more often than not it will be the iPad. And you will not be alone, because for many people tablet computers have become the preferred devices not only for consuming media, but for getting work done.
The growing popularity of mobile devices — and most notably tablets as all-in-one tools– is reflected in their rising adoption within many different industries, including federal, state and local government.
This is exemplified in a recent report by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which provides some insight into how government agencies are embracing the use of tablets due to their productivity benefits.
According to the report, many agencies are actually beginning to furnish employees with government-sanctioned devices customized to meet security and productivity concerns.AIA asserts that it is easier for an agency to control data on a device it owns rather than one owned by an employee and that personal information kept on a device should be limited. After all, if a device containing sensitive data is comprised in some way, it’s preferable for an agency IT admin to be able to wipe it remotely than for an employee to have to turn in the device itself.
The report also outlines best practices for agencies seeking to incorporate consumer devices, something the Department of Defense (DoD) recently did through its requisition of Dell Streak 5 Android tablets. The DoD is playing off the portability of tablets as a benefit to soldiers in the field. Aside from portability, there are other benefits that agencies like the DoD are embracing – particularly the aspect of increased productivity among employees.
Make no mistake: tablets are highly effective devices for getting things done quickly. Their fast boot-up times and user-friendliness simply cannot be matched by traditional computing devices.
But while tablets are fast, sleek and simple, possibly the biggest argument for them as productivity devices can be summed up in one other word: versatile.
This started with smartphones and their ability to handle multiple functions through apps and has been taken to the next logical step with tablets. They answer our inherent desire for the closest thing possible to an “all in one” device, something that can serve multiple purposes but do so in a more simplified manner than traditional desktops or laptops.
Still, there are a couple of notable hurdles standing in the way of mass tablet adoption within government circles – but they are hurdles that are being successfully cleared. One is ergonomics; the other is security.
It’s a fact that many people continue to find it challenging to type on a touchscreen, even one that’s around ten inches in size. But that argument is circumvented by solutions that are readily available to enhance the tablet experience. Cases that unfold to reveal laptop-style keyboards, for example, allow for more accurate typing and comfort. In this fast growing market other accessories and peripherals are being introduced every day – and with the introduction of new devices like Amazon Kindle and Nook Tablet, this will only continue.
There’s also the delicate balance between efficiency and security.
There’s a reason why BlackBerry phones remain popular within the Beltway – the devices are known for their security features, and agency IT administrators appreciate the way a device like that can be locked down and easily controlled. This is why it’s important for agencies to act as the DoD did – not only allowing employees to use tablets, but distributing tablets that have already been preconditioned with the rules of the agency in mind. This means a separation between personal and government data, and restricted access to some features.
One thing is clear: agencies cannot ignore the fact that employees are becoming more and more comfortable with using tablets, both inside the home and government workplace. What’s more, the way they’re using tablets has gone far beyond their original perception as media consumption devices.
Productivity apps have become far more robust than they were in 2010, to the point where mobile spreadsheet and word processing apps can replace larger, more traditional programs of the same type. Performing everyday tasks like checking email is exceedingly easy. Keeping up to speed on news items and important issues through social media and RSS feeds can be done with the tap of a screen. Cloud computing makes work more accessible than ever before, even via a touch screen.
All of these facts speak to something that can no longer be denied: tablets have inserted themselves into the government space as effective workplace productivity devices.
Cliff Unger is director of public sector initiatives at Belkin.