Home Articles Could iPads and tablet computing finally be transforming workplaces?

Could iPads and tablet computing finally be transforming workplaces?


BlackBerry chief Thorsten Heins might believe the tablets will be dead in five years. But growing evidence suggests the tablets – introduced just over three years ago in the form of the iPad — may be beginning to take deeper roots in the workplace, and even reviving the dream of the elusive paperless office.

Consider the experience of Melbourne’s VKTEK, a provider of telecommunication and other services. For years, it struggled with an inefficient in-house business management system, before recently making a start from scratch. Their initial search for a solution ran into many hurdles until a chance email gave them a potential solution – an off-the-shelf software from FileMaker called JobPro Central.

Today, VKTEK uses the package to monitor jobs, chase outstanding invoices, emailing and storing documents. Staff on the road use a mobile version on iPad and iPhone that syncs data on a FileMaker Server 12 hosted in a data centre.

Buoyed by such case studies, and its own survey, FileMaker, a U.S. maker of database software, is heralding the arrival of true mobility for businesses.

“The next wave of business mobility, fuelled by iPad and iPhone-equipped ‘productivity warriors,’ is delivering real ROI by automating processes in the building and on the company campus,” declared Ryan Rosenberg, vice president of marketing and services for FileMaker, Inc.

Rosenberg says he is equally impressed with the way businesses are “replacing paper-based processes with iPads and iPhones, thus automating areas of their business not practical before.”

FileMaker claims millions of deployments for its software, and over 500,000 downloads of FileMaker Go, a free app for accessing FileMaker databases from iPads and iPhones. It recently surveyed 499 customers on their use of mobile devices to boost business productivity, besides analysing 102 mobility case studies.

Here are some interesting findings from the study:

Building/campus mobility

The most common method – occurring 59% of the time – of connecting to office servers is via a direct connection over local wireless network to an on-premise server. This involves workers operating with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch within a building or on a campus with an integrated wireless network.  “Of course, we see many traditional road warriors using FileMaker, but we were surprised to find how much use was actually occurring inside the building,” says Rosenberg.

FileMaker cites the case of the Austin Convention Center, which armed its maintenance and technical service teams with iPads running a custom FileMaker business solution. It apparently saves endless steps for workers in the six-block-long facility, eliminates a paper-based work order system and improves customer service.

Traditional Business Tasks Go Mobile

The survey found that organisations are “mobilising” many traditional business tasks. The top 10 automated with FileMaker are: 1) contact and customer management; 2) inventory; 3) invoicing/quotes/orders/estimates; 4) field data collection and field surveys; 5) project management; 6) general data tracking and logging; 7) timesheets; 8) reports and analysis; 9) work tickets and scheduling; and 10) medical records.

Impacting more departments

Mobile deployments of FileMaker are found in virtually every key area business area within organisations. These include operations (31%), information systems (28%), sales (23%), customer service (21%), finance/accounting (17%); product development (12%), human resources (10%), procurement (8%) and legal (2%).

Growing number of remote workers

More and more businesses are empowering employees to work from remote locations using. Popular methods include remote connections via the Internet (35%) and connections via a VPN (21%).

Eliminating paper-based processes

FileMaker found that a majority (51%) of its mobility case studies involved replacing paper-based processes. Take Boston University’s Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP), one of the leading intensive English as a Second Language (ESL) schools with 1,700 students per year. It replaced its paper-based admissions processes – which occur 10 or more times a year – with a new, automated document management system. The FileMaker system includes a custom solution running on iPads and desktops, and has replaced photocopiers with iPads, slashed up-front document collection time by more than 50%, and reduced wait times for students.