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The rise of the tablet and BYOD

Published on  03 April by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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Apple's phenomenal success with the iPad, pushing it to the largest market cap company in the world, with nearing $100B in cash in the bank from the profits over the last few years, is indeed an incredible story. But it is only getting started. They have sold around 80 million iPads to a world with 7 Billion people, and everyone wants one! And more competition is on the way with Microsoft's tablet-friendly Windows 8 just around the corner.

I have seen at SITA, as well as at numerous companies, people walking around with an iPad that they have bought for themselves personally, but use at work as well. The tablet experience is just that compelling. Enterprises everywhere are now looking at how tablet applications can improve their staff productivity. Within the air transport industry (ATI), we are hearing weekly of yet another airline rolling out tablets to their crew for everything from electronic flight bags to customer service in the cabin.

This shift to supplying crew a device such as a tablet or smartphone is a big deal, because the cost of doing this in the past versus the benefit when it was, say, just a mobile phone that could only do voice calls, was not seen as worthwhile. Now, with compelling applications and devices like tablets and smartphones, the cost-benefit threshold has been breached, and over the next couple of years I expect to see large numbers of airline and airport staff that previously were not supplied a mobile device by their company being geared up to get the productivity gains these apps offer. And for staff where the investment in supplying a device might not be as clear, there will be support of "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD), where the employee can use their own smartphone or tablet to securely access enterprise applications.

The BYOD phenomenon will be supported by virtualization technologies that run on the device to let it have dual personalities. One for personal and at-home use, and one for work. So the security, data, usage policies, device management, etc., can be split and the user can switch to "personal mode" when they, say, pass the iPad to their kids to play Angry Birds, but then switch back to "enterprise mode" and get secure VPN access to enterprise apps and assets. In the end, this may mean instead of having to fully fund a dedicated device for just enterprise use, companies may supply a lower-cost subsidy to the employee - or no subsidy at all - to let them get their own device but then use it for work as well.

In SITA we are looking at how this landscape of different tiers of devices impacts app development, from fully dedicated, enterprise-only devices that are supplied to the employee, to subsidized BYOD devices that are selected from a "supported" list, to a fully personal device that could still have enterprise support for some corporate functions (for example, a crew-swapping mobile-web portal that will run on any competent mobile browser). While I see initial app development focusing on a dedicated enterprise device, I see it evolving where the same app can support different devices and modes, and optimize the user experience accordingly. For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) app for cabin crew that lets the crew preview top-tier loyalty members on their next flight could run in different "modes" depending on the kind of device and whether they are enterprise supplied and "locked down" or BYOD.

Potential new uses of tablet devices (ok, their iPads!) by airline and airport staff and the BYOD option are areas of current research in the SITA Lab, and you can expect to see some of the results coming out soon. As always, "Watch this space".

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