Will Workers #Surface for the Slick New Microsoft Tablet?

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Will business people start abandoning their PCs and laptops for tablets, especially if it comes with a cover accessory that doubles as a keyboard? Microsoft is betting they will with the announcement of Surface, its slick new tablet arriving fall 2012. And Microsoft is getting into the tablet game for good reason. According to the New York Times"> last week, “In its most recent quarter, Apple’s revenue from the iPad was $6.59 billion, more than Microsoft’s sales of Windows.” Ouch.

I asked some of our pre-sales team about what our clients and prospects are telling us about how they really intend to use tablets and smartphones for their employees. We specialize in helping manufacturers and distributors select and implement new ERP and innovative technology solutions, so many of our clients have back-office staff, operations and warehouse people, customer service, order entry and field sales teams.

Here’s what I learned about what is already being used, or under consideration, for business use of tablets and smartphones (and this is in no particular order; just some anecdotal examples):

From our ERP solution architect, who is focused on helping clients select the optimal software applications for their specific business needs:

“The use of a tablet or a smartphone for work is more of looking at KPIs, dashboards and CRM information, and not really transactions. Although portable, they are not rugged enough to use in a warehouse or on a shop floor. They’re portable, which makes it nice for tradeshows and salespeople in the field, but not for everyday keying and usage. There’s the issue of licensing and if directly accessing an ERP solution, there’s a concurrent user. Looking at pretty pictures is a light user.

There are, however, applications like SalesPad which works on such a device, bypasses the concurrent user situation and makes salespeople very mobile. And as I said, I think more on the CRM side.”

From our sales director who has worked with many of the top mid-market and enterprise ERP solutions for more than 20 years:

“Surface could be a giant killer with its keyboard and full-sized computing ports. For the most part, business users like a keyboard for speed, ease of use when writing emails, documents and spreadsheets. Tablets are spectacular for sales-oriented tasks like presentations, research and information look-up. But in a rough and tumble warehouse, construction or job site, data collection devices from Symbol and the other hand-held terminals are built to be durable and withstand really tough conditions and accidental drops. It will be really interesting to see how Microsoft Surface holds up.”

From one of our senior ERP account managers who has close relationships with her manufacturing and distribution clients and advises them on new solutions in the market:

“Several of my clients are already considering tablets for order entry, field sales and data collection in their warehouses. In one case, our client is thinking about using a tablet with voice activation capabilities in their warehouse because some of their employees are blind or disabled in a way that voice activation would be a really wonderful option. It will be great to see what cool features Microsoft includes in Surface.”

Here’s an excerpt from a good article from Businessweek about Microsoft Surface and the game-changing keyboard:

“This is the secret weapon. A keyboard. And you know what? It's brilliant. That keyboard could, by itself, seduce a lot of tablet buyers, especially those who want to use their tablets for work—not just watch, listen and flick birds across the screen.

With the Touch Cover keyboard, Microsoft successfully names and exploits the iPad's greatest weakness: Typing on glass is a pain, and nowhere near as efficient as typing on a real keyboard. While there are keyboard accessories for the iPad, they often add a lot of bulk to the device, require an outside power source and are just generally inelegant.

Microsoft's solution to Apple's keyboard problems is seamless and looks terrific. For anyone considering a tablet as a portable productivity device, the Surface should immediately jump into consideration. And all because of that slim little keyboard.”

By Andree Dolan of Sikich, a national ERP Gold Competency partner and full-suite provider of Microsoft Dynamics NAV, Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics SL and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

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