Lessons from a big iPad enterprise adopter

Paul Lanzi sits quietly in the corner of a large table at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco, with other so-called tablet experts. He's listening to a bunch of talking headsbloggers, marketers and punditsprattle on about iPads in the enterprise.

The discussion turns to a practical point. Should companies fork out cash for iPads as a laptop supplement, not a laptop replacement? Some shake their heads, saying it would be too expensive to outfit an employee with both, while one of the bloggers launches into bold predictions about the future of tablets.

Then Lanzi offers this real-world tidbit: "Four-hundred dollars to make a knowledge worker 10% more productive is money extremely well spent."

The low-key Lanzi isn't just another tech industry watcher; he's manager of the enterprise mobility team at bio-tech giant Genentech, one of the biggest iPad adopters in the world. The company began buying iPads for employees in the fall of 2010 and really ramped up in the last 12 months.

Today, Genentech has 14,274 iPads (and roughly the same amount of iPhones). Almost every knowledge worker in the company's global workforce has an iPad, meaning iPads are nearing a saturation point.

A credible mobile pioneer, Lanzi helped pave Genentech's road to iPad enterprise adoption. For instance, he built an iOS enterprise app store in 2008 because off-the-shelf offerings didn't exist at the time. Along the way, he has had a few missteps with apps that failed to resonate with users. Recently, he began shifting away from native iOS apps to HTML 5 Web apps.

Lanzi has valuable information to share about what he's learned that would help CIOs successfully adopt and implement iPads in the enterprise, if only people would stop and listen.

Rise of the Enterprise App Store

Enterprise iPad adoption has been on a torrid pace. Apple claims 94% of Fortune 500 companies have deployed or are testing the iPad. The third-generation iPad released earlier this year has become an enterprise hit. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners surveyed more than 1,000 consumers and found that one in five plan to use the new iPad for business, compared to 13% across all iPad models.

At first, Genetech's iPad adventure followed a well-known trailhead. Technologists and top executives were the early adopters, followed by managers, back-office workers and sales people. Then the number of iPads at Genentech suddenly spiked10,000 in the last 12 months.

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Not all iPads supplement existing laptops. Around 3,000 iPads replace laptops for some employees, such as the field sales force, diagnostics group, and shop floor technicians who don't regularly need a laptop.

As the number of iPads grew, so did mobile apps in Genentech's custom-built enterprise iOS app store. Today, the store has a whopping 110 apps, whereas most private enterprise app stores have only a handful. Every day, Lanzi deploys new apps and retires old ones. Many are time-based or event-driven apps and naturally reach the end of their usefulness.

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Most CIOs in the early throes of an iPad rollout don't expect to have much more than a dozen enterprise apps. But Lanzi advises them to prepare for a mushrooming effect. "If you are setting up an enterprise app store today, you've got to expect it to scale to this level or greater," he warns.

Genentech couldn't buy an off-the-shelf enterprise app store because none existed at the time, and so Lanzi had to build his own. Even today, he would still choose to develop his own enterprise app store because of Genentech's specific requirements related to global user expectations.

"We're using cloud technology today for our iPhone app installer files," Lanzi explains. "That's something that none of the commercial, off-the-shelf options do in a really elegant way."

However, Genentech might be more the exception than the rule. Today's off-the-shelf offerings are pretty compelling, Lanzi says, and would be sufficient for most enterprises.

Apple App Store Sets the Standard

One of the big hurdles in iPad enterprise adoption comes from Apple itself. Apple's consumer-facing App Store has set a high bar for app usability. Simply put, iPad-toting employees expect enterprise apps to be intuitive to use. Much like consumer apps, enterprise apps also compete for time on the iPad and have to deliver functionality that people really crave.

"It's a very valuable challenge to enterprises to deliver a mobile app that has the same usability as a consumer app," Lanzi says. "We end up spending almost as much time on user experience as we do on the actual coding and testing of the app."

Companies embracing iPads will no doubt have a few app failures. Genentech had an iOS app called Coming Together that didn't quite live up to its name. It was an internal RSS aggregator that never achieved user adoption, and so Lanzi retired the app.

Genentech has had a half-dozen failed apps; Lanzi's rule of thumb is to retire apps that fall below a few dozen users. That's not a bad track record considering all the enterprise apps Lanzi puts out.

One of his tricks is to gather user feedback just like Apple's App Store and use this knowledge to improve app development. Reviews are paramount to the App Store's success. Apple aficionados know that they can quickly star-rate an app and write up a comment. Employees also want to provide feedback for enterprise apps in the same way.

"There's a user expectation that the same App Store experience follow through to the enterprise app," Lanzi says.

Genetech's enterprise app store has a user feedback mechanism. The feedback is open, meaning users can see everyone's comments and ratings. Enterprise app feedback has played a critical role in keeping the number of app failures low, Lanzi says.

Some iPad adopters use an internal social network (think: Facebook for companies) to give employees a forum for discussing mobile enterprise apps. But Lanzi has found that iPad users don't want to spend a lot of time with app reviews. They would rather rate an app, read a few comments, post a comment and then leave the conversation, which, again, is the way Apple's App Store does it.

Doing It Right

Gathering user feedback requires some planning. Lanzi makes sure employees receive iPads with apps already installed and ready to go. People love to explore apps on their new iPad and review them. It's a kind of employee behavior previously unseen in corporate computing.

Companies would do well to tap into this initial enthusiasm. "We found that some of the most valuable feedback about our apps comes from people who have had the iPad for less than 48 hours," Lanzi says.

Validation comes in other forms, too.

Genentech has a mobile app called Peeps, an employee directory. It would be an understatement to say the app is being used. More than 400,000 profile views per month occur in Peeps. When considering that the app is available to only 44,000 mobile devices (including 30,000 iOS devices), it's an amazing amount of engagement.

"It's not to say that people wouldn't be able to contact a colleague if they didn't have [the mobile app]," Lanzi says. "But it means that they're finding it really useful and as a way to speed collaboration."

Genentech's employee surveys show user satisfaction with mobile apps hovering above 90%.

Will HTML 5 Replace Native iOS Apps?

Lately, Lanzi has been making a major shift away from native iOS apps and toward HTML 5 Web apps. It's a big move given all the existing iOS development work, but times are changing.

For starters, a trend called bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, is making its rounds at companies across the country. BYOD policies let employees use personal devices for work. A recent survey of more than 335 IT professionals, sponsored by enterprise software vendor MokaFive, found that 88% of companies had some form of BYOD, whether sanctioned or not.

Genentech doesn't have a BYOD policyyet. The company is actively considering BYOD in its future. If this happens, then Lanzi will have to deal with a flood of devices beyond iPads and iPhones. This will be especially true in the tablet space with newcomers such as the newly released Google Nexus 7, the upcoming Microsoft Surface, and the rumored iPad Mini. HTML 5 Web apps, of course, can be accessible from any device with a Web browser.

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It's also good timing that HTML 5 has matured nicely, having emerged from its heady "write once, debug everywhere" days. "From a feature perspective, HTML 5 Web apps are getting close to parity with iOS native apps," Lanzi says. "It makes a lot of sense to go down this road."

Clearly, HTML 5 is pulling CIOs toward it. On the push side, the bloom is off the native app rose. Here's another Lanzi tidbit: "A lot of our enterprise apps are breaking on iOS 6."

Despite all the signs pointing to HTML 5, Lanzi doesn't plan on moving completely to Web apps. If an iPad employee is storing lots of data locally and needs exhaustive offline capabilities, he says, Web apps obviously aren't the right choice. You'll also give up some mobile device management (MDM) capabilities when moving from native apps to Web apps.

"It's a two-edged sword," says Lanzi. "On one hand, you don't need MDM control as much because a Web app can be controlled on the server. On the other hand, we don't have the kind of remote wipe capabilities for Web apps that we do for native apps."

So goes the shifting landscape of iPads in the enterprise. In only two years, Lanzi has had to deal with a plethora of real-world issues: enterprise app stores, global iPad proliferation, iOS app development, user feedback, BYOD, and HTML 5.

While most people talk about iPads in the enterprise, Lanzi lives it.

This story, "Lessons from a big iPad enterprise adopter" was originally published by CIO.

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