WITH JUST A COUPLE OF WEEKS TO GO until Christmas, it looks like tablets are set to be some of the must-have presents under everyone's trees.
While Apple has ruled the sector for the previous two Christmases - yes, it really has been less than three years since the first Ipad was released - the whole tablet market has been shaken up in 2012 with the launch of 7in devices. These mini versions of Apple's pioneer device are the first credible competition to the Ipad, and they look to be the big sellers of the festive season this year.
Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD both offer a slick look and feel, a high quality screen, nippy performance and decent battery life, and just as the makers have shrunk the size format, the prices have fallen too. With its £400-odd price tag, only the fortunate among us could have hoped to find a full-blown Ipad under the tree on 25 December in 2010 or 2011. However, the twin Christmas angels of Google and Amazon have come along this year to make every tablet lover's dream come true. With a massively reduced price tag of £159, the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 have now become feasible presents for millions more people, and have even forced Apple to follow suit and launch its own lower cost mini tablet.
But while this is all welcome news for gadget lovers, Amazon and Google are more likely to be seen as ruining Christmas for many IT professionals. This is because when we all come back to work in the new year, loaded up with our new mini tablets and expecting to be able to access anything from our work email to the latest sales figures from these devices, it will be the IT department tasked with either supporting this mobile access, or being the Scrooge who has to say no.
For some organisations, this will prove to be no more than a minor blip. Many firms already have bring your own device (BYOD) strategies in place, and have decided what employees can and can't do with their mobile devices. So it will just be a case of extending these policies to any new Christmas presents of the tablet kind.
But for firms that have yet to consider or embrace the BYOD movement, 2013 could be a crunch time. So what can IT departments do in preparation for this tablet influx on 2 January? The first step is to sit down with business executives across the organisation and find out how much pressure there's likely to be to hook up tablets to the corporate network. Apple's Ipad has become a much coveted device among C-level executives, and they're just as likely to want the Kindle Fire HD or Ipad Mini to add to their stable. If they're the driving force behind tablets in the business, then IT teams will need to be ready with a plan for when the less senior staff turn up with 7in devices of their own.
A key element of this will be deciding how much value there truly is in supporting mobile access to corporate applications. For some organisations, letting sales teams access the latest numbers while travelling is a boon; for other firms, the risk of this data going astray will outweigh the potential benefits. But it's worth exploring the many mobile security options available to protect data in these circumstances - even if it's something as drastic as getting staff to agree to set device wipe if their tablet is lost or stolen.
Another key decision will be who gets mobile access. While enthusiastic staff who want to access their email, payroll or CRM system on their Ipad so they can do a bit of extra work on the train home or at the weekend are a positive asset to any organisation, there are a couple of dangers here. First, the security risks as outlined above, but also the duty of employers to ensure staff aren’t being overworked and have some kind of work/life balance.
There is also a decision to be made around which applications should be up for mobile access. Many firms now open up their corporate email servers to smartphone and tablet access, but the payroll, CRM and HR apps will still likely sit behind several layers of security to ensure that sensitive data isn't spilled.
Another aspect to consider is the legal landscape around enterprise mobility. If you go down the path of letting all staff access all applications from all their own devices, then you'll need to draw up policies to ensure that the data is adequately protected in line with UK and European regulations.
The answers to the above questions will be different for each firm, depending on the size of your organisation, how many of your applications are already accessed via SaaS or the cloud, and how many mobile devices there are already accessing these apps. But coming back in the New Year, armed and ready with your answers, is a resolution I'd recommend making.