I’m amazed by the resources available to kids going back to school each year. I’ve officially reached the age where my reflexive response is, “in my day we didn’t have…” upon seeing some newfangled gadget designed for students. I suppose it’s right on time as an expecting parent myself. One can’t be a proper dad without semi-regular exhortations to heed the lessons of a bleak past. Recently one item in back-to-school tech puzzled me: graphing calculators.
Graphing calculators, yes, those constant sidekicks of any adolescent trig student. It turns out they’re as popular today as they were when I was in high school; strangely look to have about the same features. Some have even carried the same model number since 1998. The TI-89 from Texas Instruments runs $149.99 in some stores. It’s pricey for a single-function device, especially considering a far more capable Google Nexus 7 tablet runs about $50 more. The costly calculator is mandated and no replacement will do in many schools.
Why make students pony up for the TI-89 or its equivalent when there are so many more options at near-comparable prices that students may already own? Tablets and other smart mobile devices are too good at what they can do. Teachers and administrators can’t account for the nefarious things a student might do with the tablet and its access to limitless information online, so a sub-par device is mandated. Sound familiar? If you’re carrying an outdated BlackBerry device or feature phone mandated by your employer, it may. In both cases, the users stuck with the less capable device are at a competitive disadvantage. We’re already seeing the results of rolling out tools like iPad to students as young as kindergarten - the results being improved test scores - what tools available on tablets and other mobile devices could make your company’s mobile workers stronger players? Why would the lack of software to manage these devices be allowed to stifle such gains? When painted in terms as black and white as calculator vs. smart device, it seems preposterous.
The graphing-calculator-over-tablet case is one that’s repeated every day in companies who have yet to investigate flexible mobile management or who are turning a blind eye to the trend in user preference for platforms that did not exist three years ago. We’ve crossed the halfway point in percentage of mobile consumers with smartphones and growth continues apace; ignoring iOS, Android devices and the push for BYOD is putting off the inevitable. Applications continue to pour into the market for both platforms and now number in the seven figures; how many could help employees work better? Management inside of many companies seeks to manage the graphic calculator equivalent for employees, one device, that does one thing well (email) and is managed through a simple, interface they’re comfortable with. In some cases, the new crop of devices has been allowed in but with little oversight of management beyond tracking costs. In either scenario, we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Keeping to a single device choice presents users with lesser tools than their peers in market and leaving new devices unmanaged introduces risk as corporate data trickles into consumer-grade applications and unsecured devices.
Bring your own device (BYOD) brings another wrinkle if introduced, by definition, a single platform will not emerge as the mix in preference among mobile platforms continues to shift. The justification for BYOD is often hinged on the nice-to-have nature of such a program’s soft benefits to productivity. there’s credence to this, data shows we work more when we’ve chosen our own devices - up to 20 additional hours per week - but many organizations have not yet built the infrastructure to welcome any devices users choose leaving BYOD to ratchet up risk with no way to measure return.
Technology is available today to limit device functions (to wireless LANs, certain applications and data) based on myriad factors (location, user, or time of day) yet most are not using these tools, relying on a single, outdated system for mobile management that’s married to a single platform. Others look to device controls like the ability to lock and wipe devices; bare minimums of security that are easily thwarted. Putting the right suite of tools in place to manage users, applications (and their use) and protect data renders a device like a tablet no more of a threat in the classroom than the graphic calculator.
What we’re giving up by forcing employees’ hands in choosing devices isn’t as readily apparent as it is in the classroom but similar missed opportunities exist. Sticking to a single, inflexible management tool and/or mobile platform in the enterprise comes at the expense of users’ productivity. Device usage- and associated productivity – will atrophy and erode competitive advantage as competitors get on board with holistic, flexible management tools. So this fall, as you contemplate that expensive uni-tasking device for your favorite student, think about how your company’s mobile strategy stacks up. Are you sending workers into the field with graphing calculators?