Cornell's experience shows that native and Web apps are both valuable, and you need not choose between them.
The college's approach to issuing the iPads also shows you don't have to go management-crazy. Users need to go through a VPN to get to the Web app and authenticate themselves in the iOS app. Employees can use the iPads for personal purposes, which helps ensure they keep them close at hand. The barriers to use are kept to a minimum.
Finally, Richards noted that Cornell had issued laptops to some people previously, mainly for issuing work orders, but managing the hardware and Windows was too much of a burden. When GE said it had an iOS app, the utility department quickly signed up to use iPads instead. "There's no need to worry about domains and backups as you would with Windows," he notes.
Still, Windows knowledge is a plus, at least to manage the system, because the utility management system and the back end to the Web and iOS apps run on Windows Server in virtual machines.
Luckily for Cornell, there was no legacy issue to worry about, as enterprises often encounter when they try to mobile-enable Web apps. Many older Web apps assume the use of Internet Explorer and its related proprietary technologies like ActiveX, so they do not function on iOS's Safari, Android's Chrome, or Safari, Chrome, or Firefox in Windows or OS X. GE's Web app had no such dependencies, so there were no issues for Cornell to worry about. It just all worked.
Cornell's experience is a great reminder of why the iPad has taken many businesses by storm, especially those with field forces: It provides easy access to key information and systems almost anywhere you are. And Cornell's experience reminds us why keeping its deployment both straightforward and flexible is a good idea.
This article, "Why field service workers love their iPads," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.