iPads for Business – my experience

Around two years ago I bought an iPad. I’m a gadget freak and had my fair share of iPods, iPod touch, iPhones etc. It was a natural progression but, if I’m honest, I didn’t really get what the ipad is for – just a bigger format… erm… but without the phone? I actually got to the point where I had overlap between devices and needed to simplify. My thought process was that I wanted one phone, one camera, one music player, one games device etc and I needed to decide which device was best for each. I also wanted a single device across my personal and business life.

The iPad was a game-changer. It made me rethink the way I work and opened up a whole unexpected line of opportunity. I bought a wifi-only version and decided I would get my Internet connection when I was out and about through tethering to my mobile. I didn’t want two data contracts. This has worked exceptionally well and the only issue is making the right choice of device and carrier to allow tethering. When will the phone networks produce tariffs for data users who just want a bit of phone? I don’t want minutes and text in proportion to data. It is an illogical and lazy approach. I actually want bags of data and only a handful of texts and minutes but none of the carriers seem set up for this.

The main rationale for the iPad, my bizarre justification for the expense, was that I would offset some of the cost by saving on a daily newspaper. This has held true. The iPad is a great format for reading newspapers- great for viewing images and adding multimedia elements to the experience as well as regular updates. I used to buy a paper every day including weekends and now I am approximately £20 a month better off and much greener. I’ve almost paid for the iPad on this alone.

I then turned my mind to work. I figured it would be great if I could replace my laptop and pen and paper with the iPad. The first obstacle to overcome is the stigma. When I first took the iPad into meetings people would look and point. In truth my first experiments with Bluetooth keyboards weren’t great and I am still to find the right solution for this. I do love the freedom of just putting the iPad under my arm though.

I bought the Calengoo calendar because I like the idea of Google as my synchronising platform. I’ve also always used this on other devices. I wanted to be able to update the calendar on either my ipad, phone or desktop pc. This is one of the tricky things I have encountered. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) doesn’t sit well with company security policies. Many organisations use Google Mail underneath their mail systems and they just need to find a way to allow syncing of the work calendar. One thing that is great about working in this way is the alerts go with you. It is no good being reminded of your next appointment by your desktop pc when you are nowhere near it!

Another real benefit of the iPad approach is that the cost of apps is so low. Companies tend to lag behind latest versions, have version compatibility issues and also usability issues when employees come and go. The cost of getting everyone on the latest same platform is often prohibitive. The real tester for this is the sheer cost of a copy of Microsoft Project or Access for the casual user. On the iPad the model is that I build the desktop to suit the way I work and then the challenge is for me to deliver work back into the network in a format everyone else can deal with. This is a much cheaper and personally satisfying way of working and I am far more productive than if I was given a standard set of tools. The fact that virtually everything I am doing is in an electronic format is far more constructive than the masses of personal pen and paper notes that exist currently elsewhere. My own experience is that I have been able to regularly retrieve snippets of valuable information that others can’t. The key is in how you use the ipad – thinking ahead to retrieval issues. In each app it is vital to think about how you would get to the data subsequently. For example I use mind mapping tools for rolling minutes. Live issues are kept in a tree structure stored by client for example and then moved into a generic “Closed” tree subsequently. Unless I capture client name and date in each new note they will be difficult to make sense of when I retrieve from the Closed branch because they will have lost their context. The same applies to handwriting tools – great for note taking but you need to ensure you have the discipline to use keywords, hash tags or drop into keyboard use to make sure you can retrieve subsequently – small adjustments that make all the difference.

I then began acquiring apps to make myself more productive – a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation viewer so that I could integrate with everyone else’s world. What I realised is that these became more about portability for me than for anything else. I could take other people’s documents with me and work with them. The export functions from most apps are great for getting my work back into the corporate space. You also realise quickly what a compromise these office tools are. I realised there were many problems I was trying to solve with a spreadsheet because it was the only tool I was being given. If you look the other way around I can save hours by buying a specialist app and using it. I work in call centres and erlang calculations are important in getting staffing numbers right. Doing this through a spreadsheet is time consuming and you end up asking a different question when you have answered the first one. There are several erlang calculators in the iTunes library which save hours.

Knowing I was then hooked into the corporate way of doing things, and that I wouldn’t be disadvantaging anyone else, I then began to look at how I would like to work and how I could make my life easier. There are lots of note taking apps and other productivity tools and there is no alternative but to wade in. My method was to work out what I wanted to do and then read the reviews before just diving in and spending my own money. I have made some “mistakes” by buying apps which just didn’t work for me but the cost has been minimal and there has been no problem because all the outputs are exported and searchable (just not editable perhaps). A real time-saver for me is using mind mapping for regular rolling meetings. The same structure is followed in each and items come up in each of them and are closed down. I wanted to be able to quickly drop into each meeting, drag and drop closed items, update each part of the meeting and move on. I have a singe mindmap which contains each of my meetings and works well. The mindmaps are searchable and can be exported as PDFs.

I also use handwriting note taking. This is great because it works well for freehand drawing as well as words. It does require a stylus. Choosing the right stylus is a matter of taste and, like all other things, you just have to make a choice. My argument is that very few of us actually choose the perfect pen – we just pick up what is to hand. All I would say is that buying cheap is probably a mistake and could damage your screen or screen protector. The nice thing is that the single stylus covers the functionality of multicoloured pen, pencil, highlighter pen, and eraser. Many note taking packages also allow audio recording of meetings which syncs with pen strokes – you can retrieve what was being said at the time you made a note. As mentioned earlier it is very important to make these notes retrievable and searchable. If you do this you then have yet another huge advantage over note taking. We’ve all seen people desperately searching through their notebooks for a valuable piece of information.

The camera on the iPad also comes into its own as a capture device. It can act as scanner with optical character recognition if required but also photograph white boards. Apps allow you to load and annotate PDFs.

The final finesse comes in the glue which brings it all together. One of my fears was over reliance on Apple. Do I want to be spending hundreds of pounds on the latest device? What if my iPad breaks? What if Android or Windows 7 do conquer the world? This is the really exciting part of the project for me. The central repository for all the documents in the cloud is the liberating force. Everything is synced through remote storage and leaves the iPad in a portable format. Handwritten notes and mindmaps are exported as searchable PDFs. Even if we just stopped at that point using iCloud or Dropbox the solution is vastly superior to most organisation’s capabilities:

  • Vastly more information is captured and searchable
  • Central costs of storage, equipment, software and networking are decimated
  • Users are far more productive because they are using the apps that fit their working styles and are able to work effectively wherever they are

The ultimate for me at the moment is then to add Evernote (or similar) as the structuring application. I fire all the documents at Evernote and I can search for a keyword and retrieve every PDF, document, spreadsheet, image, video or sound file associated with it whether I am on my iPad, phone, or pc. Slowly but surely people are realising the new way of working and iPads are popping up around meeting tables in growing numbers. The biggest challenge will be around security and protection of intellectual property in particular but realistically this is no worse than the clunky infrastructure we have at the moment.

The challenges will be around the device itself. Apple is expensive but it operates very smoothly. By reorganising my life I downgraded the phone which I needed. In my opinion no-one needs an iPhone and an iPad. The iPhone is actually not a very good phone in my experience with poor signal and poor battery life. I went for an Android phone with good battery life, capacity for my music and a decent camera. I realised quickly that the Android world just doesn’t work as well yet. The iPad does have limitations with memory. I have seen many reviews of apps which criticise on the basis of crashing. In my experience I have never had these problems if I remember to close down the apps I am not using. In the business world this becomes more important – as does pushing documents to the cloud. The other issue does tend to be when you try and work with massive documents you import – typically presentations. There is no solution to this other than to think about the presentation format. To be fair this is good practice anyway. We have all struggled with large PowerPoint files which take forever to email (or won’t go over the corporate network) because someone has been to lazy to compress a couple of huge jpegs.

I am now in a position that, employers permitting, I am never going back and I sense the rest of the world coming with me. I can do far more than colleagues without an iPad – I have far more information at my fingertips and knowledge is power. I am thinking in a different way. I also know there is vastly more scope with the same device – I don’t present or conference call from it for example. I do still have a laptop which I was provided with but this stays tethered at my desk. My only limiting factor is integration with the corporate network – if I could get the same permissions for my iPad I would happily give up the laptop.

If anyone can help me with my Bluetooth keyboard problem – something reliable, portable and power efficient – I would appreciate it.

My everday apps are (in no particular order):

  • STL Contacts
  • Calengoo
  • Dropbox
  • Notability
  • Office2 HD
  • iThoughtsHD
  • Pages
  • Evernote
  • Pocket
  • Penultimate
  • Beesy
  • ErlangC
  • Calculator Pro
  • WordWeb
  • Convert Units
  • Car Manager
  • The Times and Sunday Times
  • Procreate
  • SketchTime
  • LinkedIn
  • Skype
  • Thetrainline
  • TripAdvisor

About justaukcook

/kʊk/ Not a chef, not an epicure, not a foodie. Just one who likes to prepare food – What really happens in the kitchen and on the high street is what I write about. Follow me on Twitter @Justaukcook and on https://www.facebook.com/justaukcook
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