How to deploy tablets to your mobile workforce

Wakefield Canada needed a new tablet PC for use in the field. Who better to ask then the very folks who’d have to use the mobile devices? Here’s what they chose and why.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Credit: Michael Homnick

When Wakefield Canada, the exclusive distributor for Castrol in Canada, set out to replace the tablets used by their sales team, it went right to the source to figure out what to buy: The people who would be using them in the field. 

"A big part of this was really involving our end users in the tool selection," says Kent Mills, Wakefield Canada CTO. 

The company landed on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Here's why – and how they made an easy transition. 

Target the real customer

Even though the tablets would be used for sales purposes, the real customer here was the sales people who would be using the devices. The first question IT asked was what didn't they like about the devices they were already using? 

"Feedback from the salesforce was that tablets were nice but they were too slow to start up, heavy to lug around and they just weren't feeling like they were that convenient to use," says Mills. 

[Related: How the iPad can get its groove back] 

IT chose several potential candidates as replacements, including options from HP, Samsung, Microsoft and Apple. 

Then, in conjunction with the salesforce, IT created a matrix of what they wanted in a device, including communication, design, display, integration, performance, peripherals, support and security. 

Then the company's top five sales representatives were each given a tablet. After a week, they rotated tablets to the next salesperson until each one had used all five device candidates, and scored how they did in each category. 

"It wasn't even close. Microsoft was unanimous by a very hefty margin," says Mills. He admits that the Surface Pro 3 wouldn't have been his first initial choice, but he's not the one who had to use the tablet. After completing the matrix, it was clear that the salesforce was choosing the best tool for them. 

"It's not about me. I'm not the guy using it at the end of the day," he says. 

Laptop and tablet combined

"It's a fine machine for an on-the-road laptop," says Dan Bricklin, CTO of Alpha Software, a mobile enterprise app development company. "It can act very well as a laptop but it can also be used as a tablet in a sales environment." 

That can be key in sales, he says, because tablets are inherently social. "A laptop sits between you and another person. If you're in a sales situation, you can turn it around but you can't really share it. A tablet you can place down on the desk and two people who either sit across from each other or next to each other can easily share it," he says. "It works like brochure marketing material. It's wonderful for a sales environment, presentation type of thing." 

Wakefield Canada works on all types of tablets, including iPads. He says they're powerful machines and can be perfect for people who have to stand up a lot in their work environment, like inspectors and health services employees. There, weight is a big factor, and something slim like an iPad Air might be a better choice (it weighs just under a pound versus the 1.76 pounds of the Surface Pro 3). 

[Related: Happy birthday, Surface Pro 3! But you're not the future any more] 

But for salespeople, a tablet with more laptop-like functionality may be more appropriate, as it has been for Wakefield Canada. For the record, Bricklin talked to while using his own Surface Pro 3. 

An additional benefit of the Surface Pro 3 is that, for people who travel, it can replace a laptop and still be used with a docking station in the office or at home. Wakefield Canada has arranged for the Surface Pro 3s to be tethered to smartphones, which means the tablets can always be connected, no matter where the salesperson is. 

Sell the change

Even though Wakefield Canada's top sales reps chose the Surface Pro 3, the company still had to get the rest of the sales team – about 50 people in total – on board with the decision. 

Before its national meeting, where employees would be getting their new Surface Pro 3s, IT send out teaser videos. Some included a quiz, and the first three employees to send back correct responses got a coffee gift card. "By the time they got here, they'd seen all the videos and they were jazzed about it," says Mills. 

In the meeting, they added what Mills calls "a little sizzle" to the introduction of the new machines. They themed the transition as "the best of both worlds because you can easily break it apart," he says, referring to how the Surface Pro 3 can snap away from its stand. The presentation also included breaks like "retro treats" and a "Surface Showdown" based on the “Showcase Showdown” portion of the television game show “Family Feud.”  They also had support on hand to help users with any questions they may have had during the transition. 

And then they had a little luck. Wakefield Canada made their transition in February, right around the time of Super Bowl XLIX, where Surface Pro 3s were on commentator desks and in the hands of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen owns the Seahawks, and the team is obviously based in the Redmond, Wash. company’s backyard). 

"It's worked out really well," says Mills.

This story, "How to deploy tablets to your mobile workforce" was originally published by CIO.

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