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What Are Users Saying About Tablet Use at Work?

December 11, 2012
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What’s behind the tablet’s rise in popularity, and what it means for data security

With the rise in popularity of tablet computers in the workplace, it’s interesting to see what’s behind its uptake. A recent poll conducted by CDW, Vernon Hills, Ill., provides some insight.

The poll surveyed 610 respondents, roughly evenly divided between medium- and large-businesses, healthcare, higher education, and state and local government workers. In general, the poll revealed that tablet has grown rapidly during the last two years, with employees using tablets at work 1.2 years on average, and nearly 60 percent using their personal tablet.

Within healthcare, respondents comprised a broad range of roles, including accounting/finance, clinical, administrative, and executive leadership, and customer service. (No IT professionals took the survey.) The largest two groups participating in the survey were administration and medical personnel. Users in healthcare said their tablet devices help them collaborate with co-workers (66 percent), serve their customers better (72 percent), improve workflow (74 percent), improve their ability to access while on-the-go (91 percent), and made their work more enjoyable (74 percent).

Here are more specifics of those polled in the healthcare segment: Tablet use has gained rapidly in the last year: 60 percent of respondents say they have used a tablet computer for one year, and 28 percent for two years; only 7 percent say they have used a tablet for three years. Fifty-nine percent say they use their own tablet computers, while 33 percent say they use employer-owned devices; Eight percent say they use their own and employer-supplied tablets.

Of healthcare users, email and Web browsing ranked as the top two “can’t live without it” uses. Office/productivity suites and file storage ranked as lower priorities. Respondents also say they especially like doing email, note taking, and calendar management on their tablet computers.

At 60 percent, tablet use ranked high with desktop computers (66 percent) and laptops (57 percent). In addition, 45 percent indicated they use smartphones and 27 percent cellphones for work purposes.

Healthcare workers who were polled say they spend 2.4 hours a day, on average, work time on their tablet computers. They estimate they gain 1.2 hours per day in productivity using their tablets. Respondents said tablets use accounted for 31 percent of total computing time, compared to 56 percent for desktops and laptops and 13 percent for smartphones. Eighty-six percent say tablet computers make them better multi-takers.

This suggests that tablet use fits well with the goals of electronic health records, but it also means that CIOs need to be vigilant about policies on personal computing devices and encryption of data. The survey results obviously suggest that tablets are here to stay in healthcare, meshing  with the use of electronic health records and the perception, among the respondents, as increasing productivity. On the other hand, the increased use of personal tablets (and other devices) in the healthcare workplace brings some serious challenges to CIOs trying to maintain data security in their organizations.

The topic of data security came up during a panel discussion, “Balancing Innovation, Budget Constraints and Network Security,” part of the Technology Crossroads Conference, put on by the National eHealth Collaborative last month in Washington D.C. During that discussion, Gary Hall, chief technology architect at Cisco, brought up the “Bring Your Own Device” trend at maintaining data security.

Hall, whose background includes positions in the Department of Defense and work in national intelligence, thinks there is plenty of common ground between those arenas and healthcare when it comes to data security. At the DoD and intelligence, the trend is toward a workforce that is becoming “untethered to support the mission wherever the mission takes them,” he said. The same trend applies to hospital environments, where medical administrators and their support staff are working to protect confidentiality of information as it flows between data resources and the users, he says.

He sees increasing virtualization of data, on one hand, in the forms of which cloud computing models and managed hosted services. On the other hand, he pointed to “device proliferation, with a new gadget coming out every few weeks, so everyone is dealing with a deluge of devices in their environments.” As a security expert, he suggested that there is a need to strike a balance between enabling employees while not burdening organizations with excessive costs.

Hall also noted that the issue largely comes down to the user experience, and meeting the expectations of workers, particularly those entering the workforce now, of the ability to access information dynamically, in real time, from anywhere ant at any time. Calling it a combination of recruitment, retention and productivity issues, he said, “It’s something we have to wrap our heads around to leverage all of these technologies, but to do it in a way that allows us to not compromise on the manageability of the IT infrastructure.”