Already using older versions of tablet-based PCs? You're the most likely candidate for the new model. Everyone else, stand in line.

Tablet PCs are best for companies that already use portable computers with a similar design, such as proprietary tablets used for capturing data. Medical applications, retail stock management and the activities of delivery personnel all involve business processes that match what tablet PCs are good at today. The structured data input steps of, say, pharmaceuti- cals sales or warehouse inventory tracking include heavily forms-based input that limits the need for much typing, and they rely on comprehensive databases that can be stored on a tablet or accessed through a wireless connection.

"It really comes down to what the workflow is," says John Keane, president of systems integration firm ArcStream Solutions Inc. "What kind of information are [users] capturing and processing?" Companies that might have considered PDAs, but decided the screen's real estate was too cramped or the device's storage was too anemic, may also find tablet PCs a more desirable alternative.

But tablet PCs have yet to prove their worth in the general white-collar office environment. Though the promise of improved productivity is compelling, most tablet PC notetaking and collaboration applications are little more than early attempts. It may well be that companies heavily dependent on creative, collaborative processes, such as ad agencies and architectural firms, can benefit from the direct pen input and shared workspaces that tablet PCs provide. Is there a single piece of software driving user productivity? "I don't know if there's one particular killer app, because people's jobs vary so much," says Kelly Berschauer, a tablet PC senior product manager at Microsoft. Few major deployments have yet occurred, so the digital jury is still out.

It's not just because the latest tablet PC offerings only came out late last year. Even when the data is captured, many companies haven't figured out how to manage it efficiently once it's stored somewhere. "The tablet gives you another tool to try to massage the data," says Ken Dulaney, vice president at Gartner Inc. "But it doesn't solve the underlying problem." If your company doesn't already astutely manage distributed, user-created data, adding tablets to the mix is likely to make life even more complicated.

Ask Your Business Process Modelers:

Here's an example of a business unit that might be able to use tablet PCs. How much could we improve its efficiency?

Ask Your CTO:

…And what would we do with the data once we capture it?

Tell Your Users:

We haven't established the value of tablet PCs for our company yet, so if you buy one you may be on your own for support.

This article was originally published on 07-17-2003
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