Will tablets stick around on the jobsite? ENR Midwest Bureau Chief Tudor Van Hampton recently caught up with Houston Neal, a construction IT expert from Software Advice, about his take on the state of “the slate.”


Q: Are tablets tools or toys?

A: Tools, especially in the field. Salespeople are using them out in the field, not only to retrieve prospect information from their CRM system but also for presentations. They can be used to scroll through slides or demo a website or software. I've heard of homebuilders using it to present product brochures, contractors using it to access project documents—such as estimates, submittals and RFIs—and project managers using it to access plans and PDF drawings.

Where is the value?

It can save you time. You can have access to everything you need in the field. You could review blueprints as you walk the site, sketch out quick plans using the AutoDesk app called Sketchbook Pro or type out notes instead of using a pen and paper, lugging around a laptop or carrying spec sheets and drawings. It also can be a great selling tool. You can show that you are licensed and show examples of previous work.

What role do you see apps playing in the field?

I wrote a blog post in August2010—one year ago—about iPhone and iPad apps for construction professionals. At the time, there were around 230 apps in the market. Today, there are around 900. So, it's a burgeoning market.

Will the devices succeed?

You could argue that they already have. The iPad has become Apple's second-biggest revenue source—behind the iPhone—in less than two years since it was introduced. Are they poised to succeed in construction? I don't know who will ultimately own the mobile market, but mobile is here to stay.

When will tablets becomea part of everyone's mobile strategy—or not?

The iPad—and tablets in general— aren't for everyone. It really depends on each company's individual business needs. If a company can make a business case for using the device, then, sure, get the tablets into the hands of project managers and contractors. n