Tablets versus PCs - are tablets a panacea?

I was reading the MidSize Insider and came across an interesting commentary published by Sharon Hurley Hall, Is it Time to Swap Your Dell PC for a Tablet?, and thought I'd like to respond.

The good Ms. Hall reviewed Dell's recent financial results and the company's decline in both revenues and profitability and then went on to suggest that it is time to trade in those PCs for shiny new Tablets, such as Apple's iPad. Her analysis included the fact that Tablets are much more beautiful than the stale-looking crop of PCs and Laptops that are available today and that mobility is important in today's world.

While I agree with portions of her logic, I don't think that a wholesale replacement strategy is either workable or advisable for most organizations.

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic:

  • While it is true that the Tablet form factor is pretty, most purchase computers for the functions that they provide not just for their looks.  Some Laptops, such as UltraBooks and Apple's own MacBooks offer a very similar appearance to tablets, but are full function devices having a great deal of capacity, more capacity than any tablet offers.
  • If a staff member collects data, analyzes that data and produces useful insight and opinion that can help the organization make decisions, it is likely that a better keyboard, larger screen, and larger memory and storage capacity than available from any Tablet would be required.
  • If a staff member needs to use today's client/server applications, client software has already been developed, documented and supported for PCs and Laptops. While some suppliers are offering conversion tools for these applications allowing access from any device having a Browser supporting HTML5, it is not yet clear that this approach will offer levels of performance and reliability needed to become a production level tool.
  • Even mobile staff members have needs to work off line while traveling. Laptops have a great deal more memory and storage allowing complex data-intensive applications to come along for the ride. Many of the tools (databases, analytical tools as well as corporate applications) that have been a mainstay of PCs and Laptops for years and are still missing for Tablets.

While small to medium size businesses often have the capability to be more agile than larger organizations, leaping onto a new platform without proper planning can be deadly. Most organizations follow a few "Golden Rules of IT" to make sure that their IT infrastructure will continue to be safe, efficient and reliable. Here is a tongue-in-cheek listing of the Golden Rules of IT most organizations observe.

  1. If it's not broken, don't fix it. Most organizations simply don't have the time, the resources or the funds to re-implement things that are currently working. Replacing working workloads that are based upon PCs and Laptops with systems to support Tablets could be expensive, time consuming and in the end, the organization would end up in a similar position to where it is today.
  2. Don't touch it, you'll break it. Most organizations of any size are using a complex mix of systems that were developed over time. Changing working systems that are based upon older technologies, older architectures and older methodologies has to be done very carefully if the intended results and only the intended results are to be achieved. Tablets can't yet do everything PCs and Laptops do today. So, considering them as a direct replacement isn't yet prudent.
  3. If you touched it and it broke, it will take longer to fix and, in all likelihood, cost more than you think to fix. Most of today's systems are a complex mix of technology. If your organization is going to be updating part of that tower of software, be prepared for unexpected consequences and see Rule 2.
  4. Good enough is good enough. Although it would be nice to have the luxury of unlimited amounts of time, resources and funding and be able to develop every conceivable feature, most IT executives know that they are only going to be allowed the time, the resources and the funding to satisfy roughly 80% of requests for new capabilities. PCs and Tablets satisfy most of today's requirements and have capacity to be useful for a long time to come. Tablets still have to be considered an emerging technology, not totally ready for prime time.
  5. Don't make major changes unless people are screaming! If they're not screaming, see Rule #4, good enough is good enough. If they are merely asking for changes, see Rule 2, don't touch it, you'll break it, and Rule 3, if you touched it and broke it, it will take longer to fix than you think. If they begin screaming, you'll have to do something to respond, just touch things as lightly as possible. While some are asking for Tablets, the majority of staff are likely to be better served by a traditional PC or Laptop.

Adopting Tablets and other handheld devices really no different than adopting any other new technology. It's important to know where the organization is (from a technology standpoint) and where it wants to go before taking on major changes. In the end, it's far better to take the time to envision a comprehensive architecture that includes the capabilities of today's technology and makes allowances for the appearance of new technology before leaping headlong into an implementation process.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


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