ATLANTA -- 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 -- 7,000 iPads in airport restaurants across the country.
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Stalled 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 containerization 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.
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Here's just a sampling: A Minnesota retailer has 1,500 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 takeoff.
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 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 rollout, 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.
"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 began helping on an iPad pilot project at OTG Management, an operator of airport restaurants. OTG had ambitious plans to bring 7,000 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 IT was worried about iPads getting stolen or damaged so they housed them in bulky containers. Customers in the test case didn't really use them.
As OTG went through the pilot, it decided to dump the boxes, in favor of 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 old enclosures followed by today's version:
Which iPad would you use? After replacing the enclosures, OTG saw orders rise greatly. Now OTG is in full rollout mode, doubling the size of the footprint in the last six months.
Tekserve also used an AppleScript to get Cablevision out of pilot hell. Last year, Cablevision was trying to put 4,000 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.
But Freimark has found a way around the configuration nightmare thanks to an AppleScript that automates the creation of Apple IDs. 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.
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 4,000 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 5 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 behaviors: Employees will avoid using the iPad, which leads to a pilot project that doesn't show enough returns to justify a large scale rollout, 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 lackluster 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."
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at email@example.com