I spent the weekend working on my presentation for the Ziff Davis Business4Site conference. (Shameless plug: The conference is to be held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, where the weather doesnt suck, on June 15-17.) At the conference, Ill be talking about best practices and case studies surrounding tablet computers, desktop blades and other emerging technologies.
As I was building the presentation, I discovered that theres a conflict between these two emerging platforms that isnt at all obvious on the surface: Tablets and desktop blades are competing against each other in the health-care industry.
Fujitsus WinPad (similar to tablets but much more expensive) used to own what is now the tablet computer market, and its strongest market was health care. The reason was that it was great for forms and for tracking medical records.
Additionally, the WinPad could capture a doctors signature for prescriptions or medical procedure orders. It fit almost seamlessly into what was, and for the most part remains, a very paper-intensive industry.
Another company, Motion Computing, has been giving Fujitsu a run for its money recently in the health-care market. Motion, a startup basically made up of ex-Dell employees, has built a solid solution that it sells through Dell and Gateway (among others), and is giving Fujitsu a wake-up call it probably didnt see coming.
One of the things that had prevented the broader implementation of tablet applications in health care had been the price of the hardware. Now, with tablet PCs costing over a third less than their WinPad counterparts, theyve started to take this industry by storm.
However, even though tablets are much less expensive than their WinPad counterparts, at about $2,000 each, they arent cheap. And the changes in the rules surrounding the protection of medical information over the past few years have raised concerns about the security of information stored on tablet PCs.
Several hospitals have reported a theft problem with tablet computers. The data on the devices is typically encrypted, and as the use of wireless networks increases, less information is actually retained on the devices. But still, the loss of the device can be disruptive and could create a problem if the related health-care organization was audited and asked to “prove” the stolen data on a stolen device was still secure.
Desktop Blades for Health
Having been a security auditor myself, I dont envy the administrator having to come up with that defense. And that problem is a major reason for the multilayer security being built into the newest generation of tablets targeting the health-care market.
Its also part of the reason that the health-care industry likes desktop blades. Not only are they are secure, but they are vastly cheaper than desktop computers.
Now, this isnt just one of those screwy total cost of ownership things—it is directly connected to the work that is done. Under current disease containment guidelines, if a contagious patent is taken into a room with a PC, that PC must be disposed of when that patient leaves.
This is because the PC sucks stuff into what is often a warm environment and blows it back out, possibly infecting the next person to use that room. There is no effective way to scrub the insides of the PC down, so it must be discarded as hazardous waste.
On the other hand, because the part of the blade that exists in the room can be sealed, it can be wiped down without replacement. And even if it did need to be replaced, it is relatively inexpensive since the desktop blade itself remains safe in a remote location.
But the desktop blade, much like a desktop computer, isnt portable and doesnt do forms or signatures well. For those that have used tablet PCs, it is a big step backwards in terms of functionality, even if its a huge step forward in terms of disease containment and security.
It seems to me that an ideal solution would be one that wedded the advantages of a blade to the advantages of a tablet. If it were not for wireless computing, we probably couldnt get there.
But with Wi-Fi, particularly at the faster data rates of 802.11g or 802.11a, a portable client for the desktop blade could be created. However, using a full tablet would be too expensive. And you really dont need the hard drive or a full desktop processor, given all of the real work is going on at the desktop blade.
Using a special handheld computer, wirelessly connected to a Desktop Blade, would dramatically reduce both the cost of the implementation and the sacrifices of the two platforms to create a solution that could come very close to encompassing the benefits of both. Remember the wireless monitor initiative that didnt do particularly well? It could actually fill a need here.
Strangely enough, one of the places PalmOne has been successful with their Tungsten line has been health care, which suggests that this market is already warming to this solution. The question is: Who is going to get there first?
Before I leave you, Id like to share one discovery I made while getting my stuff together for the Business4Site conference: The people putting the conference on are the same folks I used to work with at Giga Information Group. And there, at one time, we put on one heck of a conference. If you can make it, Id love to see you at Business4Site and Ill try to answer the question, among others, I just raised at the end of this column.