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iPad, Therefore I Am…Working (Really!)
A few Sundays ago I boarded the commuter train from Grand Central, heading home at last after a very long weekend replacing servers, switches, and other cool things with buttons and flashing lights. It was after midnight and you’d have thought the only thing I would be interested in was getting some sleep. But I was riding a tech buzz that led me to fire up my Android-based phone to see if I could really get a Citrix app to connect the device to my shiny new network. For those who do not use Citrix, it is a program that allows remote access to all of your company programs and files (at least those that your network administrator lets you have access).
A quick app search got me to the free download, and within five minutes I had that eureka moment. Wow, my accounting system was running on my phone! GIFTS too! And then the satisfied grin on my face turned sheepish… what on earth do I hope to do with a miniaturized accounts payable record on my phone?
Such has been the debate of tablet computers, particularly iPads, in the workplace. They’re shiny and hip, and everyone wants one. Program officers argue that they can’t make better grants without one, and the curmudgeonly CFO replies, “I’m still using the IBM Selectric, why shouldn’t you?”
iPads as toys, or iPads as business devices, which are they? I won’t go into the iPad’s suitability as a toy; apps like Scrabble, Hulu, and Angry Birds speak for themselves! But can foundations make productive use of these sleek little gems?
The greatest strength of tablets is their combination of portability and readability. Tech-friendly board members appreciate their ability to transport the entirety of their board book materials, newspapers, magazines, and other readings in a high resolution, 1.3lb sliver of glass. Program officers can go on site visits with a complete history of proposals in their grasp. Thanks to applications like GoodReader (http://www.goodreader.net/goodreader.html) you can easily read, search, and annotate documents on your tablet. And here is the best news of all: for grants managers who are in charge of putting board books together, all you need to do is create a single PDF document. It takes five minutes to add all of the various documents (Word, Excel, PDF, etc.) into a single PDF file and send it to your iPad user. DONE! And it makes the board table so much neater.
But the true game changer for me was remote access. Unlike my sleepy little experiment with my phone on the train, the Citrix app on the iPad (or Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, etc.) really is useful. After downloading the free Citrix app, I now had a full Windows desktop on the iPad, with all of my applications and files at my fingertips, as though I were sitting at my desk. And unlike my phone, I had ample screen real estate on which to work.
So there are clear business cases to be made for introducing tablets into the workplace. There are also some drawbacks. The two most common complaints: “You mean I have to type up a grant review on this?” and, “You already have a smart phone and a laptop. What do you need this for?” Another area of concern is that tablets are inherently personal devices, not easily shared among staff (iPads, in particular, make this difficult because of its reliance on an iTunes account).
Typing anything of substance on an iPad is an act of futility (needless to say, I am typing this blog on my laptop). It brings one full circle to the days of “hunt-and-peck” typing before you took that touch typing class with the blue haired lady in elementary school. True, there are keyboards you can buy to work with your tablet. But hey, wasn’t this about portability? No, the iPad wasn’t meant for writing your next novel. Furthermore, a smart phone and laptop combination can already do more together than the iPad can ever hope to do, though not in the same way. According to a recent Executive Q&A: “Tablets in the Enterprise in 2011” by Ted Schadler of Forrester Research, “… for most employees, tablets will be a third device, replacing neither smart phones nor laptops.”*
So how does one make a case for tablets in the workplace? One way to approach this is to match the need to the individual without running up the budgetary red flag. When a staff person is due to replace a laptop they will be could be given a choice: laptop or tablet? Many program officers prefer the portability of their iPad for travel, and they can hook them up to a keyboard or use their own personal computer or laptop when serious typing outside the office is necessary. This way they get what they want, and the iPad can cost hundreds less than a laptop. And imagine the simplicity of your board book prep if you could standardize your board and staff on iPads. You could save hours of staff time, not to mention paper, and mailing costs.
There is clearly a lot of buzz about tablets in the foundation workplace as evidenced by a running discussion among the Technology Affinity Group membership. The James Irvine Foundation has created a Tablet Task Force; Gavin Claibaugh of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has written his own blog about the iPad (http://digitaldiner.org/2010/10/03/cthulhu-calling/), and other task force members are in various stages of testing and evaluation.
So is an iPad or Galaxy in your foundation’s future? Ask yourself that question the next time you’re riding the train, and coding grants on your smart phone while digging through a board book the size of a phone book.
*An executive summary of this article is available to Technology Affinity Group members (TAG) at http://tagtech.site-ym.com/resource/dynamic/forums/20110323_111455_28474.pdf.
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