How to make tablets work for your business

Nearly a quarter of small businesses are now using or trialling tablets at work, according to research from PC World Business. This figure is rising too, as working practices such as mobile working become more popular.

PC World Business’s Phil Birbeck gives his advice on how firms can benefit from embracing tablets.

1. Keep track of your customers while on the move – Tablets can help track customer behaviour, manage sales teams and deliver a better service while on the move. is the world’s most popular CRM service, but Microsoft’s latest release, Dynamics CRM 2011, is a stiff competitor. NetSuite, which includes social media CRM capabilities through a partnership with Yammer, should also be considered as it allows employees to collaborate and easily share important data.

2. Make payment mobile – The newest innovation in mobile payment is technology that accepts credit card payments via a tablet or smartphone. For small retailers, this is a cheaper alternative to expensive chip and pin payment systems. Via an app and plug-in reader, both GoPayment and Square let retailers read credit cards, take payments, text or email receipts to customers and catalogue sales.

3. Organise your business travel to make life easier – When travelling, tablets come into their own. The days of hauling a laptop and folder full of travel documents on business trips is over. There are a variety of apps that can help make a traveller’s life easier. iFlight searches all flights by destination, carrier or flight number plus there’s an onscreen departure board. Tripit stores all travel plans in one place and creates itineraries based on travel emails that can be shared with colleagues.

4. Organise your finances on the move – Increasingly, SMEs are struggling to secure finance so monitoring existing incomings and outgoings is increasingly important. MyBizTracker keeps a record of income, outgoings and expenses. It also sends reminders of important tax deadlines, making life easier by providing a snapshot of business finances. Expensify helps employees keep track of their expenses by scanning receipts, tracking mileage and collating purchases into one report, which can then be sent to the boss for approval.

5. Do more with less and get on the cloud – Cloud computing enables files that would ordinarily be saved on a computer or server to be saved directly online, so they can be accessed instantly from anywhere. To keep costs down, look at Apple’s iCloud and Google Cloud. They automatically sync data to all devices whenever you add, create or change a file.

6. Get the tools to work productively – We all know how versatile and powerful a tablet can be, but what about when you need to edit an important contract or update a financial spreadsheet in a hurry. Google Docs and Quickoffice Pro allow users to create, edit, upload and share Office documents and PDFs. When in meetings, Catch is a helpful app as it focuses on quick note taking, capturing ideas, recording voice memos and taking photos, then storing them in the cloud.

7. Say goodbye to office meetings – Tablets provide a variety of tools to work flexibly, meaning you can stay in contact with your team without going into the office. In-built cameras can be used for free videoconferencing and calls, e.g. iPad’s Facetime and Skype. Fuze Meeting streams live video and audio and you can upload files to the cloud, e.g. agendas or presentations, so all meeting attendees can access them.

8. Get rid of the wires when presenting – With the new iPad, businesses can easily create a wireless presentation system. By purchasing Apple TV (£99), firms can now wirelessly mirror the iPad’s screen on a projector or plasma screen. Although marketed at a consumer audience, Apple TV is actually a useful business device. Several firms are now using the Apple TV and iPad combo to deliver Keynote and PowerPoint presentations on projectors without the need for a VGA cable.

9. Manage your firm’s tablets remotely – Apple Configurator is a new free app for Macs which allows remote iPad management. Users can automatically send configuration data over the air and monitor device use, meaning small businesses don’t have to fork out for a full mobile device management (MDM) software. A good option is a “lending library”-style system that allows iPads to be borrowed, used and returned. Thanks to user accounts, each person borrowing an iPad will have the same apps, settings and data that they had when they last borrowed an iPad.

10. Identify job roles that would benefit from tablets – US manufacturers like MBX Systems are giving factory employees tablets so they no longer have to carry clipboards and use a pen and paper. This means they save time as they don’t have to re-enter the information on a PC later. Employees can do everything they’d do at their desk on the iPad while on the shop floor – they can even check email.