Last year, cable television company Cablevision decided to put iPads into the hands of field service technicians in hopes of boosting sales inside customer homes. Cablevision signed on with a major carrier to manage the pilot project, which called for the configuration and distribution of 140 iPads.
Soon enough, the pilot project ran into all kinds of trouble, and Cablevision "nearly pulled the plug" on its iPad dreams, says CTO Aaron Freimark at services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt Apple products.
Cablevision decided to give it one more try, and Tekserve got the contract for pilot number two. This time would be different and Cablevision was ultimately able to configure 3,000 iPads. Unlike the major carrier, Tekserve had a solid track record in its favor.
For starters, Tekserve has a lot of experience with big iPad deployments, such as with OTG Management to bring iPads to airport restaurants. Freimark is also a key player in the grassroots Apple enterprise movement and knows how to get around tricky iPad configuration obstacles.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of all, Tekserve has a good relationship with Apple and can do things with, say, purchase orders that most other iPad distributors can't do.
But Tekserve still faces challenges with the configuration and distribution of iPads. A part of the problem is that Apple could do a lot more on the iPad enterprise front, says Freimark.
CIO.com sat down with Freimark at the Macworld | iWorld Expo in San Francisco earlier this month, shortly after Freimark spoke to a roomful of attendees. (Check out 15 Coolest Tech Gadgets at Macworld | iWorld Expo.)
What went wrong with the Cablevision pilot?
I don't have all the details, but I'm guessing it was too time consuming a process to configure each iPad. The results were probably really inconsistent. Carriers don't have the knowledge with Apple. The project almost died right there.
I do know what we did and the huge challenges we had to overcome. If you want to have an individually managed device, you need an Apple ID for each person. Who's creating that Apple ID?
We could have done these iPads with an institutional method—a single Apple ID for all iPads—but then they're locked down. Technicians can't have their own apps. Each iPad is personalized for each technician, which is the deployment challenge. Sure, iPads are supposed to be left in the depot and picked up when the technician gets his truck, but we know people take them home.
Sounds like a configuration nightmare. How did you solve it?
So an administrator at a school in Arkansas, Greg Moore, had a very frustrating, similar problem with Apple IDs. He knocked it out of the park with a solution. He created an AppleScript to automate the creation of the Apple IDs. The script runs on the Mac, moves the mouse around in iTunes, clicks the buttons, and reads the spreadsheet of users.
On a thread on my blog EnterpriseiOS.com, Moore posted that he had a solution. I reached out to him directly and asked if he was interested in putting this out to the community. He said it needed a lot of work. I said I'd do the work, and so he gave it to me. I polished it up and made it work for the newer versions. We connected it to a database instead of a spreadsheet.
We put it up there on GitHub where people can download, update and submit patches. He has open-sourced this through my blog. It's not a perfect tool. You need to know some things and do some work with it. AppleScript is obscure. Not too many guys know how to program in AppleScript.
So the AppleScript tool saved the day?
We got the database of users from the Cablevision pilot, used the tool, hit the button, and in 15 minutes we had all Apple IDs created. We ended up doing 3,015 Apple IDs this way. We finished the two-month deployment in early December, shipping the last batch.
Of course, there's more to it.
We're putting the image and background on iPads, installing 30 apps on each one, putting them in OtterBox Defender cases, assembling all these pieces. We had a build sheet with some 60 steps, such as scanning the serial and IMEI numbers, plugging iPads into Apple Configurator to do a first pass on the image, enrolling it with the MDM vendor [in this case, MobileIron], downloading apps. Then we did two quality assurance tests.
Why so many apps?
Field service technicians are the public face of the company, and Cablevision has a lot of properties like Madison Square Garden and Newsday. Each of those properties has an app. There are also several technical apps, such as a bandwidth tester, ping tool and multiple ways of contacting sales departments. Technicians can put on personal apps, too.
One critical app is Google Translate. Technicians often enter homes where people speak a different language. This was a big problem. With Google Translate, technicians can communicate and do their jobs.
A failed pilot dooms a lot of iPad projects. Why is this common?
You need to have the scale in mind when you're doing a small pilot. Often in a pilot, you just want to get it over with and are willing to take some short cuts. But the pilot is the first deployment. The pilot is really where you learn the ins and outs. You're naturally going to do more work in the pilot because you're trying things that are not necessarily going to work.
Apple aims its iPad at consumers yet regularly touts iPads in large companies. What does Apple need to do to grease the wheels of iPad enterprise adoption?
If you look at what's in iOS 5 and iOS 6, you always see improvements that are really only geared toward business. But they can do more. Now some of this is good for Tekserve, because they make it harder for companies to do it themselves.
Apple IDs are really a big problem. An Apple ID is for an individual person, and Apple has no concept of a corporate ID. You don't get around that, you surrender to it.
Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work
The whole app purchasing is also very tricky. Apple has the volume purchasing program, but you have to pay on a credit card. When you're buying apps for a workforce of 50,000 people, which credit card do you put it on? A company ends up putting it on several credit cards, which is a mess.
Apple can do things to make that smoother, and there are some ways around it. For instance, you can play with the purchase order. But Tekserve and maybe another place can do that sort of thing because we have the relationship with Apple.
What else can Apple do?
Apple Configurator is a unique tool that does things no other tool does, but it's really weird and quirky. It could do a lot more, such as start pushing content out, not just apps.
Some things are no-brainers.
If Cablevision is buying 3,000 iPads, they come in 3,000 boxes with 3,000 shrink wraps. It's a lot of waste. You can buy an iPad 10-pack that comes in a box with secure foam, but that's only available to education. We asked [Apple] twice and Cablevision asked, but we couldn't get those. We had to unwrap all those boxes and ended up with mounds of trash.
There has been a lot of movement in the tablet market lately, such as the iPad Mini, Microsoft Surface and most recently the 128GB iPad. How have they impacted your business?
A lot of companies were waiting on Microsoft Surface to come out. They were hoping Microsoft would make things a lot simpler. When they saw it, it was kind of meh. This gave a green light to the iPad project. We have seen quite a bit of business since then.
The 128GB iPad was supposed to be the business iPad, but I don't think any of our customers are really clamoring for it.
The iPad Mini, though, is extremely exciting from a business point of view, even more so for business than personal. We've had fantastic sales of the Mini, not only because the iPad is cheaper but the form factor opens doors to new use cases.
Some of our best customers, such as OTG, Cablevision and the Institute of Culinary Education, which pushed out textbooks to BYOD iPads for students, have something in common: iPads did not displace computers. They went into a space where there weren't computers before.
If you think about these spaces, the iPad Mini fits into a lot more of them. Waitresses taking orders on an iPad Mini, for instance, wouldn't do that on a regular iPad. It's a big difference.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org