Commentary

No Playing Around: Tablets Get Down To Business

And here I always thought that squeezing the functionality of Sid Meier’s Civilization games to a 9.7-inch touchscreen was a feat of interface gymnastics and concision. You should see what mobile developer and service company Tigerspike helped build for business intelligence firm IHS. The IHS Connect for iPad app is a mobilized version of the massively complex and data-rich subscription service of the same name for the uber-powerful gas and oil executives who need dynamically updated info on the world’s markets and supply. The app brings in a massive number of data points, maps, overlays and tools.

And you better get it right. “The subscribers are really demanding,” says Ethan Grey, VP of Strategy and Innovation, Tigerspike. “They set commodities pricing for the entire world. They set raw materials pricing for every single country on earth, and they don’t have a lot of time or tolerance for failure or tools that are slow and don’t incorporate into the workflow.”

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Yeah -- if you are developing an iPad app for these guys, it isn’t like having a bunch of Final Fantasy fan boys whining that their game crashes whenever they cast special skills. These guys will get all Gordon Gekko on your ass.

Grey explains that the high-level needs of this class of user require pushing the iPad into zones of use that it generally never sees. “They need to do interactive maps with dozens of different overlays to get at the specificity of the information. they need to know where a collection of oil wells is in Syria as well as the political situation and the demographics –- anything that is going to sway the price of oil -– and they need it available in a 9.7-inch screen.

Tigerspike, which is also behind The Economist magazine’s iPad presence, partners with Apple Enterprise to build apps for Fortune 100 companies. Typically, enterprise apps get seriously dumbed down and heavily truncated in the translation to a device like the iPad. The mission with the IHS app was to bring as much functionality from the desktop as possible. “The amount of data you are dealing with is daunting,” Grey admits. “You have to go through all of the workflows and strip out what is essential and what is extraneous." 

Grey says this level of sophistication will be required in the next stage of touchscreen app development. It started with employees bringing their own devices (BYOD) into the enterprise and convincing IT that it needed to mobilize operations in order to maximize productivity. Studies suggest that mobilizing data and work operations can increase both productivity and workers accessing the assets. “You have a class of worker now, even people in their 40s and 50s, who are comfortable using this outside of work and expect the same utility as inside the office,” he says. Now people have better equipment at home than they have at the office. It used to be the opposite.”

Tigerspike does joint presentations now with Apple to sell mobile tech into the enterprise. In addition to power and mobility, part of the pitch is the cost savings of using off-the shelf tech like iPads in IT. “When you bring these new classes of devices in the costs go down and productivity goes up and happiness increases,” he says. “People feel more productive and they are more apt to work anywhere.”

Some ad agencies have been starting to develop mobile plans for their enterprise clients. In fact, Aegis Media invested $11 million in Tigerspike last year. “We do talk to agencies, and they do come to ask us how to do things,” Grey says. They come at it from a marketing angle, however, and we come at it from a utility angle.” But many marketing companies are starting to look at enterprise mobility as a new source of business with their clients. “Agencies are buying consultancies and consultancies are buying agencies,” he observes. And in some ways, getting mobile fully integrated into a company helps that company better imagine the ways in which it can craft products for its consumers. 

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