While corporate response to Tablet PCs has been cool for the most part, Dennis Board introduced 200 convertible Tablet PCs into his computing infrastructure and, in the process, saw productivity among mobile workers more than double.
Board is a technical specialist at Inspection Solution, a division of Remarketing Solutions Inc., based in Nashville, Tenn. Inspection Solutions vehicle inspectors examine cars before a lease is signed and after the lease expires. Board said that giving the inspectors the option to electronically input handwritten data has dramatically increased the accuracy and completeness of reports.
"The functionality of the hardware gives our inspectors the ability to do their jobs in a more thorough and efficient manner," Board said. "Now, inspectors are doing twice as many inspections using a Tablet."
Although Tablet PCs have yet to pick up steam in horizontal markets, industry analysts say the platform has been successful in vertical industries and for niche job functions.
Before moving to Tablets, Inspection Solution inspectors were using Fujitsu Stylistic 3400 slate computers from Fujitsu Computer Products of America Inc. The slates provided a mobile platform for inspectors but did not allow them to input typed notes. Inspectors filled in forms in the field using drop-down menus, but anything that needed to be typed had to wait until the inspectors could dock their systems. This disconnect resulted in a lot of incomplete reports, Board said.
Last year, Board replaced the Fujitsu slate systems with Acer America Corp.s TravelMate C104 and C300 convertibles running Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.
The switch provided inspectors with a keyboard, handwriting-recognition capabilities and—thanks to the Acer systems use of Intel Corp.s Centrino mobile technology—the ability to access corporate resources wirelessly.
Enabling inspectors to finish each report while on the road, rather than after they have docked their machines, has made a big difference in productivity, Board said. "When I make equipment choices, I think about how its going to improve an inspectors job," he said. "People used to work all day, go home and then input data. Now they can do it in the field."
The Tablet PCs have proved so successful among road warriors at Inspection Solution that company executives are now asking for the hardware, said Board. A number of managers use Microsofts Journal within the Tablet PC operating system to take notes during meetings and then transfer those notes into Word documents, he said.
Still, the cost of Tablet PCs makes it difficult to justify a companywide deployment of the hardware, according to Board. While an Acer TravelMate Tablet costs approximately $1,700, Board can purchase a Dell Inc. Inspiron 5100 laptop for less than $700.
"The deployment of the Tablet is really going to come down to functionality and cost," Board said. "The Acer machine is the same as the Dell machine with the exception of the Tablet function, yet a Tablet is more than twice the price. Until the price drops and is more in line with the competitions, its hard to justify the purchase."
Board said he plans to update the companys Tablet PCs when Microsoft releases Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, the first update to the Tablet PC OS. A Java-based reporting application also will be deployed at the time, he said. The reporting application will automatically connect to the companys Sybase Inc. database server on the corporate network to send the latest information to each inspector.
Board said he plans to take advantage of the improved handwriting-recognition features in the Tablet operating system release by integrating handwriting tools into the new reporting application. This will include the ability to accept electronic signatures.
"The market is certainly there for Tablet PCs," said Board, "and we really [are excited about] what we are able to do with the functionality for specific users."
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.