XVIII.4 July + August 2011
Page: 45
Digital Citation

Consumer toy or corporate tool

Megan Geyer, Frances Felske

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Edward Kennedy. Star Trek. The Eiffel Tower. Snowboarding. What do these have in common? All were elements in the first iPad commercial. Here's what you didn't see: A stock-trading app, a data spreadsheet, or Web conferencing. When the iPad was first released, its marketing was geared largely toward consumers. But now the iPad can be seen in the hands of all sorts of professionals, from doctors to executives. So how did the iPad so naturally migrate from a consumer toy to a corporate tool?

Quickly after the iPad was announced, it was clear that it was going to be a hit. But it was difficult to define why. It seemed simply like a glorified iPhone or PDA. Was it because it was sleek? Or just because it was Apple? Looking back, we can confidently say it was no one thing. The flexibility of the device is an undeniable contributor to its success. There are games that range from Angry Birds to MMORPGs. You can read a book, then another book, then a different book, all on one thinner-than-a book device. Writing? There's an app for that... well, there are about 100 apps for that.

When considering how the iPad's flexibility could apply to your day-to-day life, it's not difficult to imagine how it could also be used in your work life. The iPad's entry into the business world is a textbook example of consumerization—the process of bottom-up integration into the workplace by consumers and employees versus a traditional, top-down corporate-leadership push. Employees started asking for it from their companies, bringing their own iPads in to work and then showing leadership how it was useful.

At the same point, corporations started picking up on the value the iPad could provide their businesses. The opportunities for using a light-weight, portable, connected device are vast. Airlines realized its potential to shepherd the industry out of the paper era and give pilots up-to-date digital maps, such as those in the Jeppeson Mobile TC app [1]. Healthcare professionals can stay connected to their patients through the AirStrip Patient Monitoring app, which streams real-time patient vital signs to doctors' iPads [2]. And, of course, frequent travelers and field forces can stay productive for their businesses while on the go.

However, the iPad's migration into the workplace is not an easy one. Most corporations are still in the process of figuring out the device's place in their companies, many using pilot programs and selective release plans. The main question is: How do you take this personal device and implement it in the controlled corporate world while maintaining its main value proposition—its innate flexibility and diversity of use?

Companies must think differently about how they provide this device to their employees, how they support it, and for what it should be used. Normally, applications would be pushed to employees as standardized bundles. The technology would be released on a large scale to groups of people at a certain level. Corporations would control devices as much as possible to ensure their safe-keeping, standardization, reusability, and the security of the content contained on them. With the iPad, these concerns are still present, but companies must approach them in a different manner. The view of how employees adopt new technologies needs to change.

back to top  A New Way to Look at Enterprise Device Adoption

Since the iPad is innately a personal device with a million pathways to get to the same goal, corporations cannot analyze the device itself and say "Yes, it's good, release it to everyone." One really must understand how it would be useful, not just that it would be useful. Likewise, companies should not dismiss the iPad as just another device. Many of the iPad's capabilities already exist in other devices, but most people will agree the iPad's whole is greater than the sum of its parts. How all the pieces of the iPad are used together in a broader environment makes the device worthy of a second look.

Companies should approach the iPad from an employee's perspective, a customer's perspective, and a personal perspective. Based on the research we've performed regarding the iPad and how industries are already using the device, there are several tenets that a company can follow to change how they adopt new devices and ensure their iPad solution is a good fit.

Encourage iPad exploration and feedback in the workplace. Tell employees if they have their own iPads, use them! Often, companies will try to control the IT sphere by limiting available devices and discouraging use of personal ones. This may be for security reasons, troubleshooting concerns, or to control the transfer of information. But in this instance, personal iPad usage within the workplace can work to a company's advantage. Encourage people to be creative in how they use their personal iPads while hewing to company regulations.

In order to capitalize on this employee iPad exploration, the company needs to create a feedback loop. Let employees know that leadership is welcoming feedback, both positive and negative. If employees feel involved in the decision-making process, they'll want to take the time to tell you about their experiences. It is important to provide structure for feedback or institute a deadline to ensure that it is received. Be transparent with your plans and how employee feedback will be integrated into the decision-making process. For example, solicit feedback on a monthly basis in order to see not only how employees are using the iPad now but also how they use it over time. Or let them know that in, say, June there is a board meeting and it would be great to present employee ideas received by May 30.

During this process, keep in mind that this style of feedback might be skewed. People who have their own iPads are likely to say it's the bee's knees. After all, they spent a lot of money on them. Also, employees who want the device in the workplace are more likely to speak out about it than employees who don't care either way. Therefore, this style of insight-gathering should be preliminary and should not determine sweeping changes or investments.

Conduct behavioral research. This is not the same as market research or device analysis. This means truly understanding employees' behavior. Watch what employees are already doing. Observe how they use the iPad—how they touch it, flip it, and store it; what apps they buy, what apps they use, and why they use them. Understand the difference between what people say they would do on the iPad and what they actually end up doing on it, as well as how they do it. The iPad isn't just about which tasks people complete on it; it's about the journey of completing the tasks.

An example of insight from our recent behavioral research project focuses on the appropriate level of content creation on the iPad. On its website Apple claims that on the iPad one can "create, edit and share beautiful reports [with Pages]...create tables and charts... and enter and edit data on the go with Numbers." Sure, we're not going to challenge that you can do those things on the iPad. The question is whether you'd want to. When observing people using the iPad, we've noticed they prefer to perform these hefty content-creation tasks on their laptops. Most will even move to their laptops when they have to write a formal or lengthy email. By performing behavioral research, we were able to understand the context in which particular employees use the iPad for content creation, when employees preferred their laptop, and when it's just easier to grab a smartphone.

The iPad is a platform for accomplishing ambiguous goals. Its purpose is not well defined; each individual has different expectations of what it can do for them. Through researching the behaviors of your employees and potential users, you can understand which business tasks the iPad maps to and if or how you can support your employees in accomplishing these tasks.

Challenge the "Me Too" syndrome. With all the hype about the iPad, if you ask someone in your company if they want one, they'll probably say yes. If you continue to probe and ask them how they would use the iPad, chances are they will have a laundry list of tasks they could perform on it. Challenge them!

The "Me Too" syndrome can be avoided by performing behavioral research such as that discussed earlier. An interesting exercise for this problem is to give employees an iPad for two weeks. Tell the participants to use it for everything they possibly can during the first week. Need to catch up on 200 emails in your inbox? Use the iPad. Need to create a presentation? iPad. Need to edit and share a business proposal? You got it... iPad. Then for the second week, tell them to use it only when they naturally would—not to push it, to take this time to use the iPad as if it were just another device available to them. Throughout this two-week period, have them email you about their experiences or keep a journal that they later submit.

By doing this, your employees will spend the first week discovering the iPad's capabilities, what they enjoy doing on it, and what is frustrating. Additionally, this speeds up the app trial-and-error process and causes employees to quickly find what works best for different tasks. The second week will show what they really enjoy doing on the iPad and what they find most useful, after they have already tested everything out. Keep in mind the first week of this experiment might cause tasks to take a little longer, so the exercise is most successful when there is some flexibility in time and schedules.

Be open-minded with your solution creation. This isn't the simple "to adopt or not to adopt?" question. One needs to consider the wide spectrum of options for integrating the iPad into employees' workflows and how open the functionalities of the iPad should be to the employees using them.

On one end of the spectrum is a broad implementation plan, such as that done at Mercedes-Benz. After a relatively short pilot program, Mercedes-Benz has determined that the iPad is highly useful to its employees at dealerships and is rolling them out to all U.S. dealership locations. By enabling the entire sales and financing processes on the iPad, dealerships can make beginning-to-end sales on the showroom floor or in the lots. The impact? Not dragging potential customers from an emotional, exciting atmosphere into daunting financing offices. The benefits of the iPad apply in other areas of Mercedes-Benz customer interaction as well, such as the leased-vehicle return assessment. Now a returned car can be assessed right in front of the customer on the lots, with an iPad. In both of these cases, the iPad enables transparency and increases customer comfort by allowing tasks to be performed in front of them [3].

A more moderate example of iPad integration can be seen within a leading global financial company. It recently asked us to provide recommendations about the value of the iPad within its company. After performing behavioral research with employees in a variety of sectors and global locations, we recommended that the company support personally purchased iPads and enable the simplest tasks with the most relevance to day-to-day operations. This included offering email, calendaring, and contacts on the iPad for those employees who chose to purchase one on their own. Since many sectors of this company supported iPhones, the infrastructure was already in place for access to these vital business tools. All that needed to be implemented was communicating to the employees how to access these services. The value of the iPad immediately increased for employees, and, consequently, productivity, efficiency, and access to employees increased for leadership.

On the other end of the spectrum is providing iPads with a limited but highly valuable purpose, such as that seen with pharmaceutical sales reps. Pharmaceutical giants such as AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Sunovion have invested in the iPad loaded with the iRep app. Reps now have a sleek, lightweight, agile device on which they can access a large amount of information through a single app for their doctor's-office visits. The iPad and iRep app put a collection of presentations, reports, and data at their fingertips so they have the flexibility to choose information that is appropriate for and of interest to any particular doctor. And, as opposed to a laptop, the iPad can easily be passed around for data exploration and does not create the physical barrier between a rep and a doctor. In this example of iPad adoption, a single focused purpose for the iPad—helping sales reps in doctors' offices—is valuable enough that the investment and training in the device are worthwhile [4].

Build in flexibility for post rollout. It is important not only to consider the personal nature of the device when deciding if, how, and to whom it should be rolled out, but also to plan for ongoing, diverse usage. People are going to want to use different apps and accessories, complete different types of tasks, and share information and documents in various ways. Companies have the daunting task of planning to be flexible. In order to be ahead of the game, leadership should consider questions such as the following:

  • How can you help streamline the wasteful trial-and-error approach of finding useful applications while not setting rules around what can and cannot be used?
  • How should the company determine which apps are business apps and which apps are personal? How and by whom should these apps be purchased?
  • What accessories should the company plan on seeing used, and how should they handle the purchase of these accessories?
  • If everyone is going to be using varying apps to complete work, how will all of these apps interact with one another and with desktop/laptop applications? Can Pages really work with Word?
  • How do the company's standards fit on an iPad? Is there a PowerPoint template that one should use when creating presentations in Keynote? Can you put the "sent from my iPad" tagline in a standard corporate signature?
  • How can you handle information securely while still allowing employees to use the apps they want to use? Are there any types of apps that will compromise security standards?

The answers to these questions from one company could be drastically different from the answers from another company. What employees would expect of the company and of themselves is largely dependent on the company culture, on how they have handled other new devices, and on how they handle current devices. The key is to talk to your employees. Ask them questions, learn their expectations, predict their needs, and stay flexible. This way, when predictions are inaccurate, you can course-correct and ensure that your employees are getting the most out of the iPad and that your company is becoming more productive and effective in the process.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! The key to a successful relationship is communication. While true for personal relationships, this is also very true for employee-leadership relationships. It is crucial to company loyalty, productivity, and employee sentiment that leadership keep everyone in the workplace on the same page about new products, services, or regulations that could affect their jobs. This means conveying to employees what decision makers are thinking about in terms of the iPad, even if they do not consider it a viable option. In fact, if you are reading this article, you probably have something to tell your employees about your company's view of the iPad (kudos if you already have!).

Most employees today are questioning how the iPad and the tidal wave of tablet devices are going to affect the way they do work. If I buy one, will you support company email on it? What if my clients use them? What if I'm on a project involving iPads? Does leadership think this is a passing trend? All of these questions don't need to be answered right now—they just need to be acknowledged. Keep the lines of communication open, and not just top-down communication. Let employees ask questions and convey their opinions. Your employees on the ground are in the best position to provide you with key insights about how your company can leverage the iPad.

Today, a tablet device is emerging that makes tablets a viable option for both mass enterprise and personal use. It has the potential to change how companies are perceived and how industries are doing business. Keep ahead of the curve by listening to your employees, keeping an open mind to new solutions, and embracing change in your enterprise.

back to top  References

1. Paur, J. FAA OKs iPad for pilots' charts. Wired. Feb. 28, 2011; http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/02/faa-ipad/

2. Apple iTunes. AirStrip—patient monitoring. Nov. 26, 2010; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/airstrip-patient-monitoring/id399665195?mt=8#

3. Mathis, J. Mercedes-Benz financial pushes iPad program nationwide. Macworld. Oct. 5, 2010; http://www.macworld.com/article/154592/2010/10/mercedes_ipad.html?lsrc=rss_main

4. Edwards, J. The iPad: Now poised to steal drug sales reps' jobs. bNet. Jan. 20, 2011; http://www.bnet.com/blog/drug-business/the-ipad-now-poised-to-steal-drug-sales-reps-8217-jobs/7122

back to top  Authors

Megan Geyer is a lead experience architect at MISI Company, dedicated to ensuring that all audiences of any experience or engagement are represented throughout the conception, design, and implementation of that service or product. Geyer's work includes global iPad research initiatives, enterprise iPad design standards, and a large variety of audience research and strategy efforts.

Frances Felske is an associate experience architect at MISI Company, where she has learned how user-centered design applies to every aspect of a company's interactions with its customers and employees. She strives to expand her knowledge of experience design and usability as well as how to apply these methodologies to new and diverse business situations.

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