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Promising Tablet Applications Emerging in Healthcare, Sales and Retail
Every once in a while a thunderbolt strikes in the communications, media and technology world that gets virtually all players in the industry debating, strategizing, and investing—and fast. Hardware manufacturers, software and operating system developers, content and service providers, consumers, analysts, the media—you name it—launch into vociferous debates about the potential cannibalization of previous technologies and the rise and demise of companies.
These industry players also attempt to quantify the magnitude of industry disruption, investigate opportunities and threats, delve beneath the hype and create makeshift business models about potential revenues and profits at stake. Amid all this flows an undercurrent of judicious skepticism about whether this happening is legitimate or another fascinating fad that won’t amount to much and will soon pass. One current thunderbolt shaking the tech world is the phenomenal market entry, splash and divergent opinions surrounding the tablet computer and tablet usage, which have taken off like a rocket during the past year.
Among the most provocative questions about tablets is whether they will replace traditional desktop and laptop PCs in the enterprise and, if so, to what extent? Many market observers don’t think this will happen broadly for several years at least—if ever—because they believe tablets are not, and will never be, powerful or versatile enough. A more likely scenario is that desktop and laptop PC sales will experience decline (at a debatable rate) as adoption rates for enterprise workers using tablets accelerate steadily.
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For Real or Fad?Tablet mania has lit up the blogosphere during this period with heated discussions about whether tablets are a fad soon to fizzle because they have limited sustainable business value. While skepticism is warranted and prudent, what can’t be ignored is the steady and consistent stream of remarkable market growth forecasts. One of the most recent, published by Gartner Inc.1, predicted that worldwide tablet sales will tally 63.6 million units this year—representing a 261 percent increase over 2010 sales of 17.6 million units. This growth rate will continue to climb at least through 2015 when 326.3 million units will be sold, according to Gartner.
It would be difficult to find any consumer electronics or information technology markets growing at a faster clip than 261 percent. Based on Accenture’s ongoing client interactions and analysis, we believe that, within the next two to three years, 25-35 percent of all tablets sold will be for enterprise users. Tablets are not just a here today, gone tomorrow craze. They are definitely here to stay.
One main reason is they can be used to access and deliver several of the fastest growing IT enabled solutions and segments, such as cloud computing, analytics and social networking. Plus, tablets have the potential to complement and improve many of the most important business performance measurements such as lowering IT costs, enhancing customer service, accelerating product and service delivery, fine-tuning product quality and services, and delivering high performance outcomes.
While a plethora of enterprise applications for tablets are being explored, healthcare, retail and sales forces have initially shown particular promise so far.
Healthcare, Hospital, and Medical ApplicationsA promising market for tablet use resides in the healthcare, hospital and medical arenas. In one application, doctors and nurses can read and record patient medical results such as blood pressure and glucose levels on a tablet rather than on paper at a desktop or laptop computer in another location. Using the tablet reduces paperwork (and associated errors) and administrative costs, drives more efficiency and productivity, and accelerates doctor and nurse decision-making.
Patients are also benefitting. In one scenario, instead of needing a face-to-face appointment with a doctor or nurse to monitor their illnesses and prescription drug-adherence programs, patients can in some cases check these themselves with a tablet from their homes or some other remote location. This reduces expensive and inconvenient visits to doctors’ offices or hospitals.
One reason for the popularity of tablets in hospitals is that, lacking keyboards, they are relatively easy to wipe down and disinfect. They also provide quick mobile access to the latest information about clinical best practices. Some trials are taking things further: inefficient public access announcement systems featuring broadcast messages, such as “Can any available porter please come to ward B10 immediately,” are being replaced with tablets that support group store-and-forward messaging via Voice over IP over Wi-Fi. The result is improvements in transparency of task allocation and execution over distributed, highly mobile teams.
Sales Force ApplicationsSales people are being trained on how to close deals more effectively and efficiently using tablets, and are leveraging that training in real sales situations such as during sales call presentations. While meeting with prospects, for instance, sales people can swiftly and easily access, display, and enter essential data on their tablets and provide on-the-spot product/solution information and price quotes.
Retail ApplicationsIn the retail arena, store clerks can step out from behind cash registers, carry their tablets onto the store floor, and interact with customers much more proactively. Using the tablet in a retail clothing store, for example, a clerk can quickly and easily display customized clothing images, thereby improving clerk and customer interaction. Tablets are also being considered for use in retail store plan-o-grams, which would show clerks and customers detailed visual diagrams showing in which aisles the products are located. Calling up the plan-o-grams on their tablets, clerks could also gain insights about where to strategically place products to boost sales.
Additional ApplicationsBeyond the early adopters, several other industry applications are showing promising potential. Just a few examples:
1. Gartner Inc. Report: “iPad and Beyond: the Future of the Tablet Market”; September 2011
The Future—What’s Around the Corner? The tablet market, despite all its well-deserved intrigue and promise for enterprises, has several hurdles to overcome. One centers on cost. Adding tablets to the corporate hardware mix of desktops, laptops and smartphones means IT departments will need to support additional hardware, operating systems and software. All of this tends to increase IT service and support costs.
However, the potential cost savings, efficiency gains and revenue-generating benefits of tablets may eventually outweigh these costs. This remains an open question. Another major set of challenges involve tablet security. The list of security concerns and costs is extensive but will likely be resolved within the next few years.
A case could be made that only corporate IT professionals and hard-core office users are going to need desktop and laptop PCs at some point in the future. A growing percentage of employees will be able to effectively perform their jobs utilizing tablets and spending less time using typical PCs. While this will not happen overnight, we are likely headed in that direction.
To make the most of this major trend, companies will need to be adept at integrating a full range of technologies, such as tablets and services, in a tightly interwoven enterprise IT ecosystem. It is also paramount that enterprises approach this market from a global perspective, because the demand for tablets will continue to expand into many developed and emerging countries. Emerging countries, in fact, rank among the fastest-growing tablet markets. The challenges are great but the potential rewards could be even greater.
Greg Andrews is a senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics and High Tech group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 13, 2011
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