UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 649 April 4, 2011

From Consumer Toy to Corporate Tool

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The iPad’s Expanding Role in the Workplace

The first iPad advertisement from March of 2010 presents a primarily consumer-focused marketing effort. The ad shows a man viewing photos, accessing the Internet, reading a book, and checking his e-mail, all from the comfort of his couch. Thus far, Facebook-browsing and YouTube-watching have been far more common activities in iPad advertisements than checking corporate e-mail or marking up a business proposal.

Yet the iPad has generated a lot of interest in the business realm, particularly in the financial services and health sectors.[1] Applications such as Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and Documents to Go were some of the top grossing apps in 2010, a strong indication that iPad users are seeking to perform work-related tasks in between completing Angry Birds levels.[2] And with corporations and markets now examining the iPad as a possible tool, it clearly will no longer be confined to the realm of personal or recreational devices.

Companies that are already adopting the iPad are using the device in a myriad of ways. JPMorgan Chase has distributed iPads to its global investment banking division with the intent of providing its employees in this demanding field with an additional mobile tool to keep up with the markets and share information with their clients,[3] In the healthcare field, many professionals are excited about how the iPad could change how doctors and nurses collaborate and communicate with patients by allowing them to easily view charts and test results, quickly access electronic medical records (EMRs), and instantly reference online physician resources and medical repositories.[4]

Professionals are discovering that many of the qualities of the iPad that have made it a successful device in the consumer market can also be very beneficial in a corporate environment. The iPad’s portability, ease of use and intuitive interface, its instant-on capability, and long battery life are all qualities that families and executives alike are seeking in a new device.

What does this mean for the iPad in the enterprise? Is adopting the iPad necessary to stay competitive and forward-thinking, or is its wide-scale adoption jumping the gun? When taking into account cost, security, and the amount of planning required for a business to adopt a new device, deciding whether or not to roll out the iPad in your company can seem daunting and even risky. But rest assured that there are ways that you can determine the value that the iPad may bring to your company and your employees.

iPad in the Enterprise: A Case Study

Recently, MISI Company was asked to conduct a research project at a leading financial services firm to answer a simple question: to adopt or not to adopt? Our research led us to shift from framing adoption as a simple yes/no question to asking more open-ended questions such as:

  • What capabilities does the iPad offer that my employees would benefit from?
  • How could my employees integrate the iPad into their work for maximum benefit?
  • What level of support can my business provide to enable employees to maximize efficiency on the device?

Our research revealed that the iPad did not fulfill any new or unique needs for our participants, but many found it to be an invaluable addition to their existing device suite. The iPad changed how, when, and where they completed certain work tasks. The employees who benefitted the most were executives who primarily review materials, and those who travel often. The iPad’s portability, instant-on nature, easy reader capabilities, and the long battery life made it perfect for them. On the other hand, employees on an associate or administrative level would not benefit as much from this device because they are typically completing more complex work tasks. For these employees, the iPad won’t replace their laptop and/or desktop so it would just be another device to carry around. Also, its high potential for error with data entry, poor content creation experience, and the lack of compatible file outputs are all significant drawbacks.

Armed with research about how employees use or would like to use their iPads, we recommended that the company provide low-effort solutions focused on supporting certain key tasks on the iPad such as email, calendaring, and document viewing/storage. Implementing a low level of support minimizes the company’s upfront costs/efforts and the employees’ expectations, while positioning the business to expand the support they provide for the device in the future.

The iPad in Your Enterprise

So how do you gather these types of insights in your enterprise? How can you predict if your business could benefit from the iPad and similar devices, or if it would become an underutilized purchase?

A great way to begin is to foster an environment that allows professionals to explore new technology in the work environment. Providing basic support to your employees who have purchased iPads on their own is a great way for those professionals to explore how the iPad can be most useful to them in the workplace. For companies currently supporting the iPhone, it is particularly simple to give employees access to low-level systems such as email and calendaring since the infrastructure needed to implement them on the iPhone and the iPad are the same.

As employees test out the new technology within your company, encourage and solicit structured feedback from them so that leadership can be informed about the end-user experience of the iPad at a low level of support, so as to inform future decisions.

It is important for leadership to approach the iPad from a research mentality to understand the level of iPad support that is most appropriate for your organization and employees. Think about questions such as:

  • Which people in your company are using the iPad already?
  • How and when are they using it?
  • Do they feel more productive or efficient with the iPad or do they just see it as another device?
  • What do they wish they could do better or more efficiently on the device?
  • Aside from what they are already doing, what tasks do they think would be helpful for them to be able to complete on the iPad with the company’s support?
  • How does the iPad change their perception of their work tasks?

These insights can be gathered on an informal or formal basis depending on factors such as cost and the level of insight your business needs. For example, gathering information informally via short surveys, focus groups, or quick interviews to find out how employees use their iPads day-to-day can provide great initial insights for minimal cost, but such research is not enough to inform business-changing decisions.

It is important to fully appreciate the context of use when making formal decisions to encourage and support the use of a new device such as the iPad. Formal research—including contextual inquiries and shadowing both within and outside the workplace, conducted by research professionals—is most appropriate for an organization looking to gain a thorough view of the benefits and risks of the iPad and develop implementation plans based on research.

Understanding the specific tasks your employees currently complete or could be completing on their iPads will allow you to implement task-oriented solutions that are practical and based on your employees’ needs. Mercedes-Benz took the time to release the iPad initially as a controlled pilot program. During the pilot, they were able to identify primary areas in which the iPad can streamline their sales process, such as in determining finance plans and signing deals right in the car lot, or performing leased car return assessments using the iPad right in front of the customer. The new way of performing these tasks on the iPad improved the efficiency and transparency of the process while increasing the customer’s comfort throughout.[5]

Once a solution plan is decided, make sure to clearly communicate what support is available so employees understand what they can do, what they can’t do, how they are supposed to do it (particularly in regards to mobile security), and what they should be expecting in the near future. Remember that new technologies and offerings are most valuable if users are properly informed about them and are using them correctly.

Gradually enabling iPad use based on a foundation of knowledge about your employees’ real needs will allow your company to roll out an iPad support plan that is appropriate for your business. Your research and understanding of how the iPad fits in your business today will help inform your long-term goals for the device and how you would like to shape the future of the iPad for your employees, your company, and your markets.


Footnotes
  1. Dignan, Larry. IPad Shows 'remarkable' Adoption in Financial Services. ZDNet UK. 26 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. [back ^]
  2. Apple's All-Time Top 10 Paid IPad Apps. ISmashPhone - IPhone Blog. 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. [back ^]
  3. Peker, Emre. JPMorgan Gives Bankers IPads in ‘Clear and Present Danger’ to RIM. Bloomberg - Business & Financial News, Breaking News Headlines. 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. [back ^]
  4. White, Martha C. With the IPad, Apple May Just Revolutionize Medicine. The Washington Post. 11 Apr. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. [back ^]
  5. Mathis, Joel. Mercedes-Benz Financial Pushes IPad Program Nationwide. Apple, Mac, IPhone, IPad, and IPod Reviews, Help, Tips, and News | Macworld. 5 Oct. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. [back ^]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Megan Geyer is a Lead Experience Architect at NTT DATA, striving to ensure that all audiences are understood and represented throughout the inception, design, and implementation of any service or product. Over her career, she has worked on global cross-channel audience research and design projects, managed user experience projects, and provided information architecture and interaction design for internal and consumer-facing websites in a variety of industries. Megan is a member of the NYC Usability Professionals Association and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rutgers University.

User Profile

Frances Felske is an Associate Experience Architect at MISI Company in New York City, where she has learned how user-centered design can apply to every aspect of a company’s interactions with both its customers and employees. She strives to expand her knowledge of experience design and usability, and enjoys learning how to apply these methodologies to new and diverse business situations. Frances has a Bachelors in Urban Design and Architecture Studies from New York University, where she learned her first lessons about the designing with people in mind.

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We founded StoryDesk based on this trend. Companies are spending a ton of money on iPads but aren't quite sure what to do with them, or how to get real ROI from tablets.