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We recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Venkatesh Rao (@vgr), a writer and independent researcher best known for ribbonfarm.com around Alfresco’s Tablet Survey and OccupyMeeting.com. This is a guest post from Venkat providing further analysis of the Alfresco customer and prospect survey conducted earlier this year to determine tablet enterprise adoption behaviors.


The Big Picture

Tablets are the biggest element in the general trend that has been labeled “Consumerization of IT.” The general perception of this trend is that resourceful and driven employees bring consumer technology into the workplace, sneaking under the radars of hidebound IT departments that are resistant to change.

Our survey results suggest a more complex story.  The overall sentiment revealed by the survey is best described as a mix of cautious optimism and nuanced appreciation of operational issues. While many respondents are still grappling with typical first-order concerns such as security and ROI, many appear to have moved to deeper issues and the role of tablets in the systemic IT picture. An example of the maturity of the thinking around tablet is this write-in comment:

“[W]e expect that we will become almost entirely dependent on public AND private cloud.  We want to eliminate laptops because they get lost or stolen.  iPads can get lost, remotely wiped and replaced without exposing ourselves to risk.”

While it is unlikely that this particular “eliminate laptops” model will be widely adopted, it is clear that the conversation around tablets is a sophisticated one.

Few respondents questioned the fundamental value of tablet computing in the enterprise. Most of the responses to open-ended write-in questions focused on operational issues. This suggests that widespread tablet adoption is already being seen as inevitable:  a question of when and how rather than if or why. Typical concerns focus on the tradeoffs between Android and iOS devices, for instance.

It will come as no surprise to industry watchers that over 90% of respondents reported having used tablet devices. It is also not surprising that over 75% have used tablets for work purposes. What is surprising is that around 56% of respondents were from IT departments. Putting these figures together with the sentiments revealed by the write-in comments suggests that IT departments are actually leading the way to tablet adoption, rather than resisting barbarian hordes of renegade employees. If progress seems slow, it is because IT departments are struggling with complex adoption challenges surrounding an entire generation of new technologies, and a rapidly changing role within the enterprise. So despite the widespread reported experimentation, only 17% of respondents said their companies had a formal policy about tablet use at work.

It also appears that larger companies are moving more slowly. Though the surveyed population is dominated by large companies with over 10,000 employees, most of the respondents (over 70%) were from small or medium-sized companies. The reasons for this disproportionate response rate from smaller companies are not immediately clear, but without conducting more detailed research, we can speculate that the looser, more informal IT policies of smaller companies simply allow for more widespread initial experimentation. Widespread adoption is also easier due to the lack of significant scaling challenges.

We expect, when big companies figure out support infrastructure issues, that diffusion will proceed very rapidly.

Buzz and Behaviors

It has now been just over two years since Apple introduced the first iPad in April 2010, so the overall high levels of general awareness and direct experience (including experimentation with tablets for work) are to be expected.

Socialization of the technology also appears to have progressed. Only 8% of respondents reported that there was not much awareness of tablets in their organizations. Another 35% reported isolated buzz. The remaining 57% reported “general buzz” or various stages of actual provisioning in progress, with around 24% reporting that tablets were being issued in systematic ways (this is likely an underestimate of systematic adoption levels, since many organizations are adopting a BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology – model for tablets).

Tablet adoption though, has clearly moved beyond the experimental stage to stable new patterns of work. It is already obvious that tablets have become preferred meeting and travel tools. It is also clear that they are used primarily for content consumption and casual communication, with 59% reporting somewhere between moderate to constant use.

A particularly revealing result is this one:  about 30% of respondents report that they are likely to bring only a tablet device on business trips.

Tablets and Meetings

The role of tablets in meetings is of particular interest since anecdotally, it is clear that tablets are changing meeting cultures radically (a phenomenon we explored in our recently released e-book, Death by PowerPoint, Resurrection by Tablet, available at OccupyMeeting.com).  The survey results support this conclusion.

Only 34% of respondents reported that tablets were “rarely sighted” in their workplace.  About 21% reported seeing a tablet every second or third meeting. Approximately 44% reported ubiquity levels somewhere between “At least one person seems to have a tablet in every meeting” (25%) to “It’s pretty much all tablets” (2.2%).

Conditions are now ripe for more rapid diffusion via social proof and imitation, and it seems clear that tablets will dominate meetings of the future.

Not everybody, however, agrees with our conclusion that tablets in meetings are a huge positive. For instance, one respondent noted that:

“We forbid tablets and smart phones at all meetings. Full attention to the discussion is required and lack of attention to the conversation is considered rude.”

Unlike PowerPoint, which created a relatively homogeneous landscape of meeting cultures, we expect the impact of tablets to be more fragmented. Meetings where tablets are forbidden will have a place in the new landscape, as will meetings where every attendee is expected to bring a tablet.

Our Methodology

Alfresco’s “Tablets in the Enterprise” survey, indicates that small and medium businesses are leading the way. But large companies are not far behind. Far from resisting tablets, as some believe, IT support professionals appear to be the vanguard, leading the charge. Operational, rather than doctrinal issues, appear to be the reason for the relatively slow adoption in larger companies.

Socialization of the technology has progressed beyond isolated buzz and superficial awareness to increasingly sophisticated appreciation of both the potential and weaknesses of tablet technology.

Though diffusion is far from complete, the survey reveals that tablet use has progressed from casual experimentation to established behaviors and clear usage patterns. It is becoming clear that the tablet is now the preferred consumption and passive social interaction device among those who use them. Laptops, despite their nominal mobility, are being increasingly relegated to specialized use as creation devices, usually at “home base” locations such as cubicles or desks. Smartphones complicate the picture somewhat, but have also seen some of their uses being cannibalized by tablets.

As far as usage patterns go, tablets have effectively made laptops less mobile, and smartphones more mobile.

In general, tablet adoption has decisively shifted from vague if and why concerns to specific when and how questions, with established de facto usage patterns being significantly more advanced than codified ones.

Tablets are here and are set to dominate business life. All that remains is for IT organizations to pave the cowpaths.

About the author

Chris Vitti

Chris Vitti

Chris Vitti is the director of websites and marketing technology at Alfresco. Prior to Alfresco, Chris was at Gartner for 8 years managing their websites, intranet and content management systems.

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