CIO Otto Doll of the city of Minneapolis bought into the iPad craze in January, opening his computing environment to both company-issued and personally-owned iPads. He figured many of the city's 3,600 PC-toting workers would take up his offer and flood the network with Apple's magic tablet.
Six months later, only 170 iPads have been deployed in the city.
"It was kind of surprising," Doll says. "We were really expecting more folks to jump on the bandwagon. I thought there was this pent-up demand and expected 400 or 500 right off the bat."
So is the iPad over-hyped as an enterprise tool?
Many obstacles stand in the way of the iPad's march to the enterprise. Apple and the media have played up the iPad's promise, perhaps setting up unrealistic expectations. The iPad itself is a poor replacement for laptops for most knowledge workers. It's costly for companies, especially money-strapped cities such as Minneapolis, to embrace new computers that don't replace existing ones.
Yet despite the initially low iPad adoption rate, Minneapolis isn't looking back. The bet on consumer technology will eventually pay off, Doll says.
"Part of my job is bringing people back to reality when they drink the Kool-Aid," he says. "In reality, there's a whole series of pieces that have to be in place for all of this stuff to click, and we're getting there."
The iPad Enterprise Craze
At every quarterly earnings report, Apple makes huge claims about the iPad in the enterprise. Ninety-four percent of Fortune 500 companies have deployed or are testing the iPad. Early adopters range in industries from healthcare to manufacturing. CEO Tim Cook has often said that he's never seen an enterprise adoption rate like this in his life.
The third-generation iPad released earlier this year has been an enterprise hit, according to a survey by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. One in five customers who bought the third-generation iPad planned to use the device for business.
Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work
Some 85 million iPads have been sold since it debuted in April 2010. Recently, Apple extended its worldwide lead in the tablet market, boosting its market share of units shipped to almost 70 percent, according to market researcher IDC.
Rosy numbers aside, the iPad still has a long way to go, says Doll.
"There's this perception that everybody and their grandmother owns an iPad, and it's just not true," he says. "It's actually a fairly small percentage of the total households of our workforce."
Doll doesn't know exactly how many of the city's employees have personal iPads, but he does know that only a few wanted to hook up personal iPads to the corporate network. Doll's iPad push in January included a bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, option. Roughly half of the 170 iPads fell under the BYOD program.
BYOD iPads: A Rarity
Doll figured city workers would want to bring their iPads to work. City workers face a public stigma about using city-issued computers and smartphones for personal use. A BYOD iPad can circumvent this problem.
So what happened? There's no question part of the problem concerns the iPad's sky-high cost. "People still have to come up with the money," Doll says. "The iPad alone is going to cost them anywhere from $400 to $800. Not everyone is running around with an iPad."
Another problem: hardline BYOD user policies. Doll, his chief information security officer, and managed services provider Unisys went over numerous security options to reach a level of risk they could live with. The result is a BYOD user policy that includes the city of Minneapolis's right to wipe BYOD iPads.
Some employees may not have wanted to subject their iPads to such policies, says Doll. It's not uncommon for this intersection of BYOD and employee privacy to be wrought with legalese and heated debate. (For more, check out BYOD: Time to Adjust Your Privacy Expectations.)
Is the iPad Good for Business?
On the other side of the equation—city-issued iPads—the adoption rate slowed to a crawl. The iPad initiative lets departments make the call on who may be entitled to an iPad. Doll doesn't know how many workers requested an iPad and were denied, but concedes the number could have been high.
Truth is, the iPad is additive technology, an additional cost. No one who was issued an iPad turned in an existing PC or laptop. Meanwhile, Minneapolis's public sector still suffers through tough economic times and is expected to make budget cuts again in 2013. This doesn't bode well for city-issued iPads.
"At the end of the day, people are really questioning, what is the value proposition of the iPad?" Doll says. "The iPad is not replacing any existing technology. As an additive cost, the iPad is giving pause to department leadership about who can be issued one."
Slideshow: 10 Coolest Tech Devices to Bring to Work
In order for iPad adoption to spike, the iPad needs to show its usefulness. Yet critics have long argued that the iPad is a poor content-creation device, a criticism that has proven to be true in Minneapolis. The vast majority of iPad users are manager-types who might look up factoids at meetings, check email, write short messages, and access files over the Internet.
Other workers don't have much use for an iPad. While a tablet might be a good fit for the city's 85 inspectors in regulatory services, the iPad lacks a stylus pen for quick data entry in the field. Also, the city of Minneapolis is a Wintel shop, and the iPad doesn't work well with Windows—at least, not at the level where an iPad can replace a PC.
"I'm looking for that crossover point when I can really get computing in the form factor of an iPad to truly meet the needs of folks," Doll says. "Then I can start dropping some of this other technology, which is probably way more than what folks possibly need."
iPad Storm's A-Comin'
Given the iPad's poor adoption, you might think Doll's initiative was a failure. But he has no regrets about bringing iPads into the city. In fact, he'd do it all over again. As pieces fall in place, he says, the number of iPads and other consumer tech should grow.
Case-in-point: While Minneapolis has citywide WiFi, most government buildings don't. Just last week Doll brought wireless connectivity to city hall, which houses a good portion of workers. Obviously, the lack of wireless in the workplace has been an iPad deterrent. But that may change now.
Moreover, Doll sees the iPad's slow start as the quiet before the storm. He is a firm believer that the gale forces of consumer tech, BYOD and the iPad will eventually make landfall in Minneapolis—and he'll be ready. Doll says that CIOs who try to embrace these trends amidst the chaos are in for a rude awakening.
"Consumer-grade technology is going to play a role in the computing capabilities that we give to our workforce," Doll says, adding, "It's going to get harder. There will be more and more folks vehemently tied to their specific selection of technology, like the die-hard Apple crowd."
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