updated 09:55 pm EST, Mon November 14, 2011
Switching to tablets may save money
Two more US federal agencies -- the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service -- are evaluating iPads as replacements for notebook computers and other computer tasks, according to PDFs obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. While no final decision has been reached yet, the Forest Service appears to be planning to deploy iPads beyond the test program beginning in the middle of next year, while the BLM is currently at an earlier stage of evaluation.
According to its own statistics, the BLM has an average of 1.6 computers for every employee (generally one workstation computer and one notebook) for up to 16,000 employees. The iPad is seen by the bureau as a way to exchange some lighter-duty and field machines for a single tablet that can handle most common computer functions (primarily e-mail, attachment viewing, web research and calendaring) with a single, stable OS whose upgrades offer little risk of disruption for a modest one-time cost.
The present average spent on computers for the employees is around $1,300 per employee, and about the same amount in annual maintenance over a typical five-year lifecycle. One report mentions that in cases where the iPad could replace a notebook or desktop machine, it would likely save several thousand dollars per unit, even if it were replaced more frequently. It is also projected to lower the average ratio of computers-to-employees down to 1.2 devices, with an overall 30 percent or more savings -- primarily in maintenance costs.
The BLM reports cite a number of trade-magazine articles showing ways that the iPad and other tablets can be made to securely connect to government networks, e-mail and other considerations, such as the use of GPS in remote areas and other abilities specific to the bureau's needs. An undated test program (though it appears to have been conducted this past summer) where a BlackBerry Playbook and an iPad were given to executive state bureau and IT administrators in Alaska gave positive reviews to both machines, with the iPad being termed "invaluable" to the state director. The department also prepared a lengthy overview of the possibilities of iOS 4 back in 2010, but took little or no action on tablet devices at that time due to some enterprise-level deficiencies.
The US Forest Service launched a pilot program for iPads in August, distributing an initial batch of 50 with a further 55 now being distributed. The first phase of the pilot program will test the suitability of the iPad's out-of-the-box abilities to the services' requirements, including areas such as e-mail, calendaring, contacts and task management among a variety of employees, both executive and managers in various departments.
The second phase, which will be implemented early in 2012, will explore the VPN, e-mail attachment and Sharepoint capabilities of the iPad, with the final testing (instant messaging and remote or network printing) being done in the spring. As with the BLM, the Forest Service believes that tablets will help reduce turnover and maintenance costs as well as make for a more portable device for field work and connectivity compared to notebooks with additional cellular cards.
Both agencies will also be looking into Android devices as possible options once the pilot testing is complete. The iPads were generally chosen by virtue of being the market leader in the tablet arena as well as having the "most mature" operating system.