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iPad and wireless keyboard on an office desk, with an office phoneMirroring the adoption of smartphones and PDAs before it, the explosive growth of the iPad in business can be attributed almost entirely to employees’ obsession with Apple’s “magical” tablet.

The iPad’s transformation from consumer gadget to enterprise tool points the way to an employee-driven tech future in which users — not IT departments — get to choose their own gear and applications.

IT managers are learning how to adapt, fast.

“When the iPad was first released, we didn’t have any kind of enterprise strategy about supporting the device,” said Jeff Niblack, an IT manager at UnitedHealth Group, a diversified health and well-being company with over 80,000 employees worldwide.

“Within two weeks, we started getting our first inquiries. In the following two months, though, things really exploded, and I started getting requests for pulling iPads into nearly all aspects of the enterprise. There are now around 1,100 iPads deployed.”

Kaplan Higher Education agrees. The certificate and degree program company found itself bombarded with requests from employees who wanted to use their personal iPads on the job.

“Kaplan has a very young executive team and they were just in love with the iPad,” a Kaplan representative said. “They just started buying them, and so we had to learn to integrate the iPad as quickly as possible.”

Even the IT departments at smaller organizations are having problems with crowd control when it comes to denying iPads to their users.

Jeff Gargas is the IT Director for Robinson Engineering, a civil engineering firm with 120 employees spread across eight offices through the Chicago area. Robinson currently has a dozen iPads deployed, with more to follow.

At first, Gargas was nervous about giving iPads to his users.

“I’m a big fan of Apple products, so I was bringing my own iPad into work and using it for apps like Evernote, Dropbox and RemoteDesktop,” says Gargas. “Even so, one of the main reasons I was reluctant to deploy the iPad was because there’s no easy way to centrally manage the tablet, including mass-installing apps or connecting to files on our network.”

Eventually, Robinson Engineering realized it couldn’t keep employees from using their own iPads, and had to figure out how to make it work.

“As the iPad gained more traction and press, it became a lot more difficult to fend off people going, ‘Hey, why can’t we use iPads here?'” Gargas says. “Users started just purchasing their own and bringing them in, just like I did.”

“That was both a blessing and a nightmare: a blessing because we didn’t have to train users in how to user their iPads, a nightmare because we had no way to control them.”

The difficulty in centrally managing users’ devices is the biggest barrier to entry facing IT managers who want to deploy iPads to their users. For example, while Kaplan Higher Education eventually rolled out over 500 iPads to its users, it wasn’t easy, due to the company’s inability to distribute a device with a standard “image” of all the standard apps.

“That’s not the way Apple wants it done,” the Kaplan representative said. “They see the iPad as a personal device, each iPad as distinct as its owner.”

Problems that IT managers face in deploying iPads also include the mass purchasing of apps and the inability to add the iPad to corporate data plans.

Even so, Kaplan considers the rewards of deploying iPads to be greater than the drawbacks, and it is now considering giving iPads to as many as 10,000 students.

“Once the iPad’s actually out in a user’s hands, we love it. It’s easy to support. We don’t have to pay a company like Research in Motion licensing fees for a product like Blackberry Enterprise Server, since the iPad connects with Microsoft Exchange,” says Kaplan’s IT department.

Ultimately, IT managers seem to agree: Even though there are hurdles to deploying the iPad across an enterprise, the rewards are too great to ignore. But it does take a leap of faith.

What’s the lesson for businesses?

“Part of what we discovered here at Robinson Engineering was that letting our users figure out how to use their own iPads was the best part,” says Jeff Gargas. “If we hadn’t learned to trust our users and trust the iPad, I don’t think it would have been successful.”

As for Apple fans who want to use their iPads at work, the message is clear: The best way to get your company’s IT department to start supporting iPads is to bring yours to work and just start using it. Eventually, your company will have to catch up.

Photo credit: Nibaq/


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