Long before computers and digital-based data sharing, information security was a critical priority for mankind. These days, though the means by which we access information continue to constantly evolve, this priority still remains at the top of the list for individuals and companies alike. The threats we face are also changing, and therefore we must be cognizant of how to combine the right hardware, software and human action that is needed to protect our businesses without hampering employee productivity.
Following the Steve Jobs iPad creation in 2010, the tablet landscape, while crowded by many different vendors and many different ideas, has truly been an outgrowth of one concept: a downsized “computer” that is easy to transport (light and small), has a touch-screen-supported OS and provides an easier-to-use interface than the standard PC or laptop. This was a killer formula that has drawn millions and millions of users to buy these devices.
The Changing Tablet Landscape
Today, that landscape has changed. Tablet sales have leveled off from their tremendous growth rates early in the decade. Now, consumers are seeing that the two- to three-year-old tablets they own are doing exactly what they need them to do, and they see no need to replace them with newer models. In turn, we see businesses with a growing need to support these devices in the workplace as more and more people want to use their own devices at work. Businesses are also seeing the potential that these devices have in making their employees more productive and are looking for ways to leverage tablets cost-effectively.
This “hybrid” form factor is not a new concept. Tablets with a Windows 8+ OS have been around for several years. The primary advantage is that these devices can run ALL Windows-compatible apps while providing a mechanical keyboard of some sort for better productivity. The demand for “2-in-1 hybrid” devices that either combine a convertible laptop-to-tablet format or a detachable keyboard that allows for pure tablet use is growing quickly. Microsoft touted its Surface Pro 3 hybrid as a direct competitor to the MacBook Air. It was and is a high-powered, high-priced, touch-capable hybrid with some unique tools including the Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen.
The Surface Tablet
The history of the Surface tablet line harkens back to the day when Microsoft touted it as an iPad killer when the iPad was the 500-pound gorilla, which it no longer is. Windows 8/RT was Microsoft’s pure tablet OS that required support of a quickly developed app store, which didn’t happen fast enough. Because users couldn’t find the apps they needed AND couldn’t run the full-blown desktop versions of Office and other Windows applications that they were accustomed to, there was little demand and RT was DOA.
As businesses look to leverage their existing Microsoft computing infrastructure, and are gradually discovering the need for dedicated tools for mobile jobs in their organizations, they are buying more and more “hybrid” devices that can act as a tablet when need be, but that can leverage the many full legacy Windows PC-based applications that have been a staple in the workplace.
The Surface 3 began shipping this week. It might be a game changer for Microsoft as the company continues to compete against Android and Apple to control the mobile enterprise space. Here are three reasons why the new Surface 3 may be successful in the workplace:
- Windows 10 (RT…RIP): Finally, Microsoft gave up on its ill-fated tablet OS called RT. Moving away from ARM to an Intel processor and supporting its mainstream Windows OS is a big reason businesses may begin to adopt Surface 3. It opens the door for Surface users to have access to any of the thousands of Windows applications that exist that they didn’t have in RT. At the same time, more app improvements are being made to ensure users can leverage the touch and pen capabilities of these devices.
- Features/Affordability: The Surface 3 starts at $499, which is smack in the middle of the quality tablet market price for a 9-10” screen. It also fits well into the 2-in-1 hybrid pricing group. The Surface screen is actually 10.8” and full 1920×1200 HD, along with the same unique 3:2 aspect ratio of its older sibling, the Surface Pro 3. It comes with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for that price along with a micro-SD expansion slot. Adding the keyboard and pen obviously kicks this price up a notch but also does the same for the competitor devices. More importantly, businesses could consider the Surface 3 as a desktop/laptop replacement, especially for field-based personnel who need the tablet capability first and can do just fine using a keyboard occasionally. No more need to buy/carry both. Below are key specs:
- OS — Windows 8.1, upgradable to Windows 8.1 Pro for $50 (Users will receive the Windows 10 upgrade when available for free)
- Screen — 3:2 aspect, 10.8” with 1920×1280 resolution
- Storage Options — 64GB or 128GB SSD
- RAM — 2GB or 4GB
- Processor — Quad-Core Intel Atom x7 processor, 1.6ghz (2.4ghz burst)
- Kickstand — 3 positions
- Micro — SB charging port
- Surface Pen — Sold separately for $49
- Type Keyboard — Sold separately $129
- Battery Life — Up to 10 hours of video playback
- Software — 1-year MS Office 365 Personal and 1TB OneDrive Storage included
- 4G Data — A cellular option will be available later this summer
- Natural Enterprise Fit:
Microsoft is still the king of the server and desktop OS in the workplace. The ability for IT departments to manage this hybrid as they do the rest of their fleet provides a new option for those needing its versatility as a tablet/laptop hybrid at a new, lower price point. As Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Intune mobility management software matures, the Surface and Surface Pro 3 are positioned well to be viable computing options for various job roles in the enterprise.
By Eli Loving | Director of Training, TechOrchard
So your company is going to hand out a bunch of tablets to its workers? You’re the one responsible, and you have no idea how you’re going to get 500 tablets out the door looking like they’re supposed to, with the right apps, configurations and controls. Plus, you need to be able to provide security and logistical support after giving these things out. You aren’t being allowed to hire any additional staff to do this. It’s all you. Oh, and one more thing: the conference these are being launched at is being held next month. Good luck!
Does any of that sound familiar? It does to me, as I hear it often. While 1 month to prepare for anything over 500 devices is pretty tight (your bottleneck is often just getting the hardware), it isn’t unheard of. I’ve helped with many of these deployments and not often in optimal conditions. I won’t share all my tips and tricks with you (that’s what you pay us for!), but here are a few items to consider before you get in touch with specialized resources.
Bottom line: Don’t stress! A large deployment with minimal snags is possible if you plan it right. Get in touch with someone who has done this before and use the expertise they’ve gained from wading through other deployments!
It’s really, really unlikely that you’ve got the time, staff AND experience to cover all the bases you need to cover — especially in this economy of down-sizing and out-sourcing. If you do, it’s still a good idea to contact an external resource that has carried out large-scale deployments of hardware. This isn’t to say that you or your company doesn’t have the skill to get the job done, but a specialized company (like TechOrchard) does it all the time and has already made the mistakes a first-timer would make. More importantly, we don’t have to think about generating TPS reports while sorting the details on the deployment.
Confirm the requirements as early as you can
All of these tips are important, but this one is particularly important. It isn’t that you have to hard-code these requirements in simulated stone, but having as clear a picture as possible when it comes to what will be on the tablets will help the planning stage, and will dictate which steps take place when in the process. Some things to think about:
- Will I be managing these tablets after I hand them out?
- What apps will be on these tablets? Size? Commercial or private? How will I be pushing/paying for them?
- Does the company require any specific aesthetics (think background images, engraving, on-screen personalization, etc.)?
- What corporate collateral will be placed on the devices pre-handout?
- Will the data on the devices be subject to any regulation? (Are you a lawyer, doctor or financier, or do you work with/for the government?)
- What HR policies need to be enforceable on device content?
- Do you have a usage policy written and prepared for the users to sign and accept?
The list goes on and on, but that should get you started. Also, have a drop-dead date on changes to the requirements. Once you (or the company doing it for you) has started a provisioning process, it can be very difficult to go back and make mass changes. The more elements at work (and especially if there are management layers on the devices), the more costly (in time and money) changes are when you start the provisioning and management-enrollment processes.
Have a plan
This one is a no-brainer. Plans help you scale your execution, prepare for curveballs and just generally make things go more smoothly than rollouts without one. However, building plans for something you might not have done before can be rather daunting, frustrating or even downright annoying. Here again is where having someone who has done this 30 times before help you is a real bonus.
Again, sort of a no-brainer, but I’ve personally seen two really great on-paper deployment plans that weren’t put through a couple simple test runs melt down in spectacularly embarrassing ways. Test out your plan, work out the kinks and don’t leave cheap real estate for Mr. Murphy to chew on your shiny new toys.
Training the users of the tablets is a step that nearly every client I’ve worked with overlooks. If you are deploying to a group of 15-24 year-olds, then by all means, skip the training; but if you are like most of the clients I work with, users will need at least some form of basic training.
Without training (and especially in the case of teachers and sales professionals), tablets will likely become very costly paperweights or toys for the employees’ grandchildren. For the clients that do forego the training, all but one ended up coming back to the company I currently work at for some sort of training — both basic training and on specific business-process training. Training is a relatively low-cost insurer of more rapid device and process uptake. Do it.
Hopefully this gives you a few things to think about when considering your deployment. Don’t go it alone; there are too many moving pieces in today’s increasingly non-standard, increasingly-mobile biztech universe.
Symantec updated its mobile security offerings this weekend with a push to its mobile security services. It requires a Norton Account and additional permissions within your service account and offers services that are nearly identical to Lookout Mobile’s backup and locate services. There is not that much here to differentiate this product from the myriad other players on the scene right now (aside from the “Norton” name), and there isn’t a lot to attract large corporate customers looking to secure their data on mobile endpoints.
One could argue that Norton is not necessarily competing on the commercial scale here but is instead targeting the small-end consumer. Tests at TechOrchard on multiple devices did not reveal anything that would be useful at the corporate level.