Yesterday I had a long conversation with Oliver Bussman, the CIO of SAP, a business software company with well over 50,000 employees around the globe, about tablets. Bussman is a tablet power-user and a big proponent of mobilizing workers.
The past week or so has been chock full of tablet news. The Motorola Xoom went on sale, the iPad 2 was announced and the BlackBerry PlayBook’s release date was leaked. We talked about all three devices and how they will be used in the enterprise. Tablets are a lot more than entertainment devices, they’re becoming serious business tools that more and more professionals will use in 2011 than ever before.
Bussman explained that the growing tablet ecosystem is so big and mobile users’ needs so diverse that it’s impossible to ignore any of the mobile tablet platforms. While Bussman currently uses his iPad as a communication tool, he thinks the PlayBook and Honeycomb tablets will have a big impact and businesses.
“The developer community is growing for all these tablets and we have to support customers developing mobile app on all of these,” said Bussman
We talked a bit about divergent needs of end users. A software engineer’s use case is clearly different than a salesperson’s.
“My view is the combination of the hardware plus the available software drives a use case,” he said. “That drives our strategy of being device agnostic.”
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Advantages Over iPad 2
Though he uses an iPad on a daily basis, Bussman pointed out some key advantages the PlayBook brings to the table. He pointed to his own company as an example where some users would be better suited with the PlayBook than the iPad and why some CIOs may prefer the PlayBook. Bussman was lucky enough to get a PlayBook loaner to use for a week while he was in New York recently and knows a thing or two about BlackBerry smartphones since he’s ultimately responsible for the thousands of RIM devices in his organization.
Flash isn’t just a matter of video games and video. He explained to me that Flash matters for many in the enterprise.
“The PlayBook supports Flash and in the BI (Business Intelligence) area we have a Flash-based application that is content-rich,” Bussman said. “It gives us more opportunity to put apps we’ve already built on it.”
Another key aspect of the PlayBook is that it’s designed with business in mind. While the PlayBook may have some entertainment features, its messaging and security features are its core differentiators.
iPad 2 Not a Must Have
The biggest news of this week was the introduction of the iPad 2. Though Bussman is an avid iPad user and has deployed 3,500 devices within SAP in less than a year, he doesn’t see the iPad 2 as something he necessarily needs to upgrade his workforce to.
“A faster processor, faster graphics, video conferencing – that’s good, but compared to a year ago it’s not a game changer. I’m ok with the iPad one,” said Bussman, who went on to explain that his tablet use-case won’t benefit too much from the iPad 2′s new features.
He pointed out that he will not be increasing any of SAP’s departments’ budgets so they can rush out and upgrade to the iPad or buy any other tablets. If they want to jump on the tablet bandwagon or upgrade existing tablets, they’ll have to delay other technology purchases or make other choices.
“We are very clear from a budgeting point of view and not adding budget for new devices,” Bussman said “We didn’t increase the end-user equipment budget to get the iPad. We give users choices and people like to make decisions.”
He said one are that could spur upgrades at large businesses is video conferencing, something that typically takes a very large investment.
How SAP’s CIO Uses the iPad
Bussman primarily uses the iPad to read and respond to email and as media consumption and sharing device. He relies on Pulse to keep up with both business and IT news. He uses Twitterific to communicate with his followers, many of whom are SAP clients and employees.Flipboard and InstaPaper are another couple of his favorite apps.
“The device is super at accessing information from everywhere and sharing information and that’s the value proposition for the tablet,” he said. “With the iPad I can scan 200 headlines in five to ten minutes.”
He says he sometimes leaves his laptop at the office and just brings his iPad on short trips. But if he needs to tweak presentations or perform more complex tasks, his notebook flys too.
He said that the most popular iPad app within SAP helps visualize complex business information.
“The number one use-case we see is mobile business intelligence. It is giving us access to information from everywhere, including profit and loss and sales forecasting dashboards,” Bussman said. “Business Explorer is number one app internally.”
What About Android Tablets?
“The Motorola Xoom is being brought in house and tested,” he said. “Android is playing an important role. The application development community is already going after it, including many of our customers. Android is a must-do.”
The Future of Tablets
Bussman sees more and more tablets being used by businesses in the future, but it’s going to take some effort to deploy them broadly.
“The number one challenge with some of these tablets for CIOs is their designs are for the consumer market,” Bussman said.
Because some of these devices, including the iPad are almost always used for part business and part pleasure, SAP is exploring security and privacy options. He pointed out that some countries like Germany make it very difficult to not cross privacy regulations if users put both personal data on a company-owned device.
But in other markets, SAP is testing iPads loaded with Afaria, a solution that will allow SAP employees to store both personal and business data on iPads securely. If an employee moves on, they could potentially keep the device and the business data could be remotely removed, without having to restore the device or removing personal data, such as photos and apps.