iPad pilot programs’ dirty little secrets

Tom Kaneshige
22 September, 2013
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Speaking to a packed room at the AirWatch Connect customer event in Atlanta last week, Aaron Freimark, CTO of Tekserve, a New York-based Apple consultancy, asked the crowd: “How many of you have been in an iPad pilot for over two years?”

A few brave souls sheepishly raised their hands, while the rest of the attendees broke out in nervous laughter. It seemed as if everyone was caught in the same lie. Truth is, many IT pros are faced with stalled iPad pilot projects that threaten to derail a larger rollout.

“It’s the dirty little secret of iPads,” Freimark says.

Tekserve knows all about iPad deployment troubles having been in the trenches since the original iPad appeared in the spring of 2010. Tekseve was involved in one of the first iPad deployments and, later, one of the biggest at the time – 7000 iPads in airport restaurants across the country.

Can iPads go from the warehouse to the enterprise?

Apple iPadStalled iPad pilots have become increasingly common, even though Apple has made strides towards helping businesses. Apple has retooled its volume purchasing agreement to make bulk purchases easier and is bringing many enterprise-class features to iOS 7, most notably native containerisation for separating and isolating business and personal apps on an iPhone or iPad. Apple Configurator for deploying iOS devices is considered by many to be a powerful tool.

Nevertheless, thousands of iPads continue to be stuck in warehouses.

Here’s just a sampling: a Minnesota retailer has 1500 iPads that have been stashed in a warehouse for years, Freimark says. A carrier has 20,000 iPads waiting to be rolled out, he says, but the pilot project can’t clear them for take-off.

High-end retailer Tiffany’s had iPod touches intended to be used as point-of-sale devices piled up in a closet for two years – that is, until Tekserve set them free. Tekserve has rescued iPad pilots from OTG, Cablevision and others.

“This is a little scary, right?” Freimark says. “That’s a lot of cash going down the drain.”

Why pilots go off course

The iPad pilot problem is a tricky one to solve, because there are so many ways pilots get bogged down. Reasons run the gamut. Pilots can be derailed when IT isn’t involved enough or when IT is too involved. Pilots can get stuck when strategic scalability considerations aren’t well-thought out or tactical iPad training gets short shrift.

A couple of years ago, a sales group at a luxury retailer wanted to give iPads to its district managers. The group hired Tekserve to deploy iPads under the condition that Tekserve not involve the IT department; IT had a reputation for throwing up roadblocks to tech adoption. Upon receiving their new iPads, the district managers logged on at the same time – and down went the Lotus Notes server.

Suffice to say, IT was not happy.

When IT comes on board late to an iPad pilot or rogue roll-out, the tech folks often puts on the brakes. Techies have never had much respect for easy-to-use iPads and see them as a threat to traditional IT practices. And so IT will often take its time doing due diligence, especially when securing iPads. In other words, iPad pilots can creep along slowly when IT is too involved.

Aaron Freimark, Tekserve

“Now IT wants to control everything,” Freimark says. “A lot of businesses really overreach, in terms of what they think they need to control.” Late last year, Tekserve salvaged an iPad pilot project at OTG Management, an operator of airport restaurants. OTG had ambitious plans to bring 7000 iPads across four North American airport restaurants in 18 months. Management envisioned customers ordering food and drinks over an iPad and – ca-ching! – sales spiking.

But the pilot stunted the plan, with two big problems preventing OTG from going to market. It took almost a week to deploy 50 iPads due to non-automated configuration, and IT was so worried about iPads getting stolen or damaged that they housed them in bulky containers, which OTG employees called ‘doghouses’. Customers in the test case didn’t really use them.

OTG turned to Tekserve, which quickly solved the configuration problem. If you try to create more than 10 Apple IDs from a single IP address, Apple shuts you out. But Tekserve has a relationship with Apple that allows it some freedom in the tricky art of iPad purchase orders. Freimark also found a way around the configuration nightmare thanks to an AppleScript that automates the creation of Apple IDs.

Next, Tekserve helped OTG dump the doghouses. Instead, the restaurants would use a friendlier iPad dock that would allow customers to hold the iPad in their hands, play games and keep track of their flight times. Here’s the picture of the doghouse followed by today’s version:

Locked-down iPad casings

Leashed iPads, as seen today at airport restaurants

Which iPad would you use? After replacing the doghouses, OTG saw orders rise 15 percent. Now OTG is in full roll-out mode. Instead of 50 iPads a week, Tekserve is averaging 50 iPads every 24 hours.

Tekserve also used the AppleScript to get Cablevision out of pilot hell. Last year, Cablevision was trying to put 3000 iPads into the hands of field technicians and signed on with a carrier to help manage a 140-iPad pilot project. Time-consuming configuration, though, made Cablevision “nearly pull the plug” on the project, Freimark says.

Through AppleScript and Tekserve’s relationship with Apple, Tekserve was able to greatly speed up the process and put the pilot back on track. Still, Apple is far from perfect when helping companies adopt iPads. For instance, Apple sells iPads individually and only sells iPad 10-packs to education, not even to Tekserve. So expect mounds of trash when deploying hundreds, if not thousands, of iPads.

Unlike OTG, Cablevision didn’t fall into the security trap. It gave field technicians a sense of ownership over the iPads, allowing them to download apps on the App Store and use them for personal use. The results speak for themselves.

Out of 4000 iPads, only 15 have come back damaged (including software problems). That’s less than half a percent failure rate, beating by a wide margin the five percent failure rate goal in field services. Moreover, Cablevision field technicians surfing the App Store found Google Translate, which turned out to be extremely helpful in their jobs.

“If you start treating your customers and employees not like criminals, they’ll reward you,” Freimark says.

Even iPad users need training

Another reason for iPad pilot hangover is poor employee training.

The thinking goes that everyone is supposed to know how to use the iPad straight out of the box, but that’s not true. The special problem with the iPad is that those who don’t know won’t ask out of fear they’ll look silly. This can result in a couple of bad behaviours. Employees will avoid using the iPad, which leads to a pilot project that doesn’t show enough returns to justify a large scale roll-out, or employees will try to find answers on their own.

“If you don’t provide training to users, you’re basically outsourcing your help desk to Google,” Freimark says. “Either they won’t use it or they’ll try to Google answers – and there’s a lot of bad information on Google.”

Poor large-scale deployment planning, IT anxiety and trepidation over security, and lacklustre training have felled many iPad pilots, Freimark says. All of which was confirmed by the attendance and reaction of the crowd at AirWatch Connect, who gathered to hear Freimark’s talk on ’7 Common iPad Deployment Mistakes to Avoid’.

Many wanted to know how to get out of the mess they’re in.

“Companies can’t get out of pilot,” Freimark says. “We’ve seen this again and again and again.”

by Tom Kaneshige, CIO (US)


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Tony says:

    Some sort of info about what iPad pilot is might have been informative and added to the sense of the article.

  2. Murray Lawler says:

    I think a lot of IT environments sabotage Apple deployments including iPads, the thinking being if they can slow the implementation down significantly, they will be able to trash the project and in the meantime Microsoft will catch up, but Microsoft isn’t catching up.

    IT has a lot of fear, but I think what you should take away from this is that most IT departments and enterprises are trying to deploy iPads like they would a Windows Laptop, however iPads and new wave mobile devices, with the exception of a lot of the Windows stuff, is a totally new paradigm…. its no longer about controlling the device or the hardware, the new paradigm is user centric, and the issue is now about controlling the data. Its information or data that is important to companies and corporations need to find new ways of controlling the data on users devices rather than controlling the device. The information security community needs to look at new ways of achieving data security using applications on mobile devices…. not locking or reducing the functionality of the hardware.

    Because of this new paradigm, I now see very limited opportunities for IT departments at the user end, and they know this, hence their reluctance to support the iPad or iOS devices properly.

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