Capture and use data more efficiently with a pen-based portable PC? Sounds great on (digital) paper.
The tablet computer has been a gleam in the eye of technology champions for decades. The promise of a seamless marriage of flat-panel hardware and flexible software has long been at the forefront of many visionaries' image of the ultimate information-consumption machine. Let people mimic the way they capture and read information from a paper pad, the thinking went, and productivity will shoot skyward.
The greatest strategic value for the organization would come, it was hoped, from capturing data that might otherwise be difficult to use, if not lost entirely. If you can get more data in digital format, you have a chance at beginning to whittle down the 80 percent or so of unstructured data held by just about every corporation, much of which may not be on a computer at all (see "Order Out of Chaos," May 2003). Think of all the paper notepads you've filled in your professional life, and how often you went back and sifted through those notes for a usable thought. Then multiply that by all the conventional notetakers in the organization, and think about the monumental task of trying to search colleagues' notes as well. That's a lot of unusable dataespecially when one idea-needle in that yellowing paper haystack might be just the thought your company needs to solve a thorny problem.
In other cases, a new corporate mandate might require specific data to be captured and reported. Traditional paper-based forms typically result in wasted time in the course of translating text from paper to typed input. So why not use tablet computers to make sure data is captured efficiently from the start? That was one of the main drivers for Ashley Wharton, IT director for the Visiting Nurse Association of Central New Jersey. Capturing state-mandated patient information with their previous, proprietary pen computers was tough for the nurses. "We wanted a way to make life a little easier, so they're not bogged down collecting this kind of data," he said.
The other much-touted opportunity for tablet PCs is to support more flexible collaboration between workers. Early testing has focused on tablet-based applications designed to allow people to share whiteboard software that lets wireless workgroups simultaneously update a graphic under discussion. Other software is intended to help structure the brainstorming process, using so-called mindmaps to develop linked outlines of ideas. "When people are able to interact with their PCs in a more effective way, there really is an overall increase in productivity," insists Sumit Agnihotry, mobile products manager for Acer America Corp., which makes a line of tablet PCs.
Ask Your Business Constituents:
What business processes could be made more efficient if we captured data and graphic information more efficiently?
Ask Your CTO:
How much more data could we potentially capture if key workers used tablet PCs?
Ask Key Business Workgroups:
What kinds of collaborative processes do you now use that are heavily oriented to graphics and whiteboards?