Apr 28, 2011 1:24 PM PT

iPads become inevitable for enterprise IT

Emphasis overwhelms hesitance on tablets in general, and iPads in particular

"What the iPhone started to show us -- and the iPad is absolutely making clear -- is that these devices are coming in whether you like it or not. That means that IT has its work cut out for them."

-- Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner.

For a lot of IT managers – who may have been hoping the whole bring-your-own-technology thing and iPad tablets specifically would go away – the rest of this year is going to be put-up or shut-up time.

Not because Gartner is raising the alarm; so is everyone else.

IT departments that haven't started projects to support, manage and run apps on and for wirelessly connected, highly mobile tablets are shooting themselves in both feet.

One foot is the anger, dissatisfaction and loss of confidence they'll suffer from end users who resent that IT either refuses to do anything new that will directly help them do their jobs, or doesn't understand why tablets are so darn useful (and not at all attractive primarily as status symbols or "PCs" that are a lot lighter than the luggable they use now).

The other foot is the loss of functionality they'd get out of a workforce that gets as much of a mobility boost from tablets as it did shifting from desktops to laptops, and the increased control and protection IT would get over the data those workers are using.

"Data doesn't reside on the mobile device for offline access," according to Jean Holley, CIO of Tellabs, whose success with large-scale tablet deployments is a key part of a tablet-management package of how-to stories in Computerworld.

"This model prevents loss of corporate data and intellectual property. As the mobile Internet gets smarter and the coverage area continues to grow, we believe there will be minimal need for offline capability in the future," Holley said.

Tablets – iPads in particular because they hit the market fully formed so long before any of their competitors, most of which are still working out their own bugs – have already taken over health care and financial services.

Companies in both health care and finance have solid, well-researched, well proven justifications for their deployments and their belief that tablets will be a key form factor for their end users.

There is some bias in favor of iPads from fanboys and some additional oomph behind its acceptance by doctors and nurses who need something smart, useful and connected that they can carry into patient rooms without having to roll in a PC on a cart.

There's just as much justification for tablets in SMBs as well as larger businesses, though. And lots more sketching out benefits and best practices of tablets in any industry, not just those with special needs.

It's even possible to secure the d*(&n things.

Even if you resist doing anything about them, iPads are seeping in through the cracks, anyway. You're going to have to deal with them somehow.

In many companies it's IT pushing tablets as a replacement for laptops, clipboards, paper and as a platform for new location-aware applications. Reports from Forrester and GigaOM lay out some of the specifics.

They still won't replace laptops as a primary computing platform, and in some cases won't even be as productive as laptops. It's too hard to type on them for long periods and they're underpowered for some applications.

For constant connectivity, data access, form-based data entry, inventory, simple note-taking, presentations and 80 percent of the other things people use laptops for (and many for which paper is still the basic platform), tablets can be a big boost to productivity.

They can even help you keep track of employees. If you can't find someone and they won't answer their phones, call Apple.

They'll be able to tell you where everyone is.

Just don't tell Steve Jobs.