A Publication of WTVP

You’ve surely heard about the iPad by now, and there’s a good chance you’ve even experimented with one, even if you haven’t succumbed to the frenzy and actually purchased one. But what you may not be aware of is how these tablets are revolutionizing industries across the board. Across the nation, they are enhancing the retail experience, enabling nonverbal children to communicate, and allowing prospective students to get a better view of a college campus. In fact, there seem to be few industries in which the iPad has not taken hold.

Greater Efficiency in Government
Last year, the Peoria County Board adopted an internal sustainability plan, one component of which was to reduce waste. Although the board’s meeting packets were made from recycled paper and recycled after each meeting, the amount of waste they created was unacceptable.

In efforts to reduce that waste, most board members were given iPads, offering them the ability to view electronic versions of those packets, which can range from 20 to several hundred pages, according to Scott Sorrel, assistant to the county administrator. Multiply that by 18 board members, and it’s apparent that the amount of waste, in terms of both paper usage and staff time, is substantial.

Now, instead of creating 18 physical packets for each board meeting, PDF versions are pushed to board members’ iPads, as 14 of them opted to use the tablets. Those members have the ability to purchase their iPads via payroll deductions or direct payments to reimburse the county, should they choose to do so.

To facilitate board members’ use of iPads, a secure, dedicated wireless network has been installed in both the conference and board rooms at the Peoria County Courthouse. While the county has yet to quantify the time and money saved, Sorrel notes a substantial difference in the amount of paper needed for each meeting.

Better Service in Retail
As new applications for the iPad were developed, the retail sector was not left out. Paul Sherman of Sherman’s is one of a few local retailers that have implemented the tablets. “That little thing,” he said, “has been a phenomenal tool on the sales floor.”

Sherman explained that his company started experimenting with iPads on its sales floors last April, and quickly realized its capabilities for enhancing customer care. “[Our salespeople] can operate our entire sales system…write up a sale, check stock, check competitors’ pricing, look up specs on the product…the list goes on and on.”

Realizing that iPad-equipped salespeople need never leave the customer to go look something up, Sherman’s now requires that they carry their tablets at all times. While the family-owned business does compete with local stores like Best Buy and American, it’s the online retailers Sherman is most concerned about. He noted that customers tend to research products and prices in stores, and then go home and buy at better prices online. “We’ll help you pick, but you don’t have to go elsewhere if you find it [cheaper] online. Just do it in our store…we’ll match it.”

Upon introducing iPads on its floors, Sherman and his staff quickly realized not only how much they could do with it, but that their wireless infrastructure was lacking. Additionally, the store’s website needed to be updated with complete information on products and pricing in order to harness the iPad’s full capability. Today, a salesperson can tap a QR code on a product with his or her iPad and pull up everything a customer might want to know.

“Everything’s less cumbersome with an iPad,” noted Sherman. “If you have to look something up or delay [the customer] in any way, you’re just reminding them that maybe it’s a little faster to shop online, where everything’s immediately available. We need to match the speed and information level of the Internet—and add the people.” The favorable response from customers shows that’s just what Sherman’s has done.

While he didn’t know of other local retailers using iPads in similar ways, Sherman said that he’s recommended to several business owners that they implement the tablets. He attributes their reluctance to the fact that if the store’s website or intranet doesn’t have all the information a customer might want—or if a capable wireless infrastructure is lacking—the amount of time, money and effort it requires to make the system iPad-ready could be prohibitive.

Convenient Tech Support
Fortunately, firms like Sora Technologies can help those businesses implement or upgrade their infrastructure. Jacob Adams, Sora’s president, reported that he’s seen an increase in companies implementing iPads and iPhones. It seems the iOS system is a big hit locally, as some of his clients already have systems with up to 50 iPads.

“We support all kinds of businesses,” said Adams, who personally uses the tablets for their convenience and portability. “We can remote in from the iPad…to connect to any workstation, any server. We can start a remote session with anyone, and we can access any of our ticketing systems as well,” he added.

Sora’s use of iPads also enhances customer service, as it’s easier for technicians to carry a tablet around with them than a laptop. “What are the chances that you’ve got your laptop lugging around with you all the time in a backpack?” Adams asked. “It’s kind of hard if you’re on call on the weekend and you’re doing something else, but the iPad’s easy to carry with you wherever you go.”

Heart Technologies also finds the iPad to be a convenient add-on to its system. In addition to remotely accessing the company’s network, the device allows its technicians to map routes to clients’ locations on larger screens than the average GPS device and gives them insight into the weather conditions they’ll be dealing with at their destinations. Once on-site, Heart employees use iPads to take pictures of the clients’ premises, which can be sent to coworkers if further support is needed. In addition, various applications allow technicians to electronically capture signatures on contracts.

Giving Kids a Voice
The iPad has also proven extremely useful for families with autistic children. “The iPad is just one strategy among many that can be utilized to teach communication and provide visual support for children with autism and special needs,” said Jamie Hollis, manager of the autism program at Easter Seals. At the Lorraine and George Shadid Autism Resource Center, families are able to use the tablet before purchasing one to determine its potential for their child. The Center’s staff also uses iPads in therapy sessions with children who already have them at home or school.

“Linking families with resources is essential,” said Hollis. “The new technology available to us today is opening doors for children with special needs. We feel it is our responsibility to help families understand all the possibilities that are available to them today.”

Tara Oathout, founder of LoudMommy, a nonprofit that donates iPads to families with nonverbal autistic children, feels the same way. After learning how effective iPads could be in helping nonverbal children communicate, she wanted nothing more than to obtain one for her son, who was diagnosed with autism the day after he turned two. She set up a fundraising tool through Facebook, and two days later, had raised enough money to purchase the tablet.

With the use of an iPad, Oathout’s son is better able to communicate his needs, and his vocabulary has significantly increased. After seeing her son’s newfound ability to communicate, Oathout embraced her gift for fundraising and adopted the cause as her own. As of early December, she has given 13 iPads to families like her own across the country, and was running a Christmas campaign in hopes of giving away a dozen more by the end of the year.

Learning in the Classroom
Not only are iPads being used to help children with special needs at home and in therapy sessions, but at school as well. The life skills special education program at Limestone Community High School utilizes the tablet technology all day, every day, according to one of its teachers, Amber Power.

“The iPad has done wonders for our classroom. It’s like having two more teachers,” Power said. “The applications that the students are working on are able to be done totally independently. [Students] are empowered to take learning into their own hands. There are some students who have difficulty doing independent tasks; these iPads level that playing field.”

Not only do the iPads allow students to learn more independently, they also increase their desire to work on reading and math skills. After watching students respond favorably to the classroom’s interactive “smartboard,” Power and her co-teacher, Kelly Assman, knew that getting iPads into their classroom was a no-brainer. “The best thing,” Power said, “is that it is so easy to navigate for all levels of students. My kids know exactly where everything is on the iPad.”

Recognizing the opportunities iPads have brought to her classroom, Power is eager to see the achievements her students will make as they become more familiar with them in the future.

A Better View of Campus Life
Higher education is also putting the iPad to use here in Peoria, as Bradley University has implemented them in campus tours for prospective students and their parents. During these tours, student guides can push short videos to the tablets to better illustrate classroom life, athletic events, living quarters and quad activities. The videos help to customize the tours for the students, as only those matching their interests are shown.

Jim Ferolo, chair of Bradley’s interactive media department, came up with the idea as a way to enhance the campus tour experience, especially when school isn’t in session. “When you don’t see the students, it’s hard to get an idea of what it’s like to be here, both in classrooms and labs, and athletic competitions,” noted Susan Andrews, associate vice president for marketing. “It gives a much better idea of the Bradley experience—a realistic view of what it’s like to be on campus.”

According to Andrews, people often inquire why prospective students can’t view the videos from the comfort of their own homes and save themselves a trip to campus. “Research shows that it has a much bigger effect—a more meaningful and impactful effect—when students are actually there, right at the place where something happens,” she counters. “Time and place is very important in video delivery.”

Larger than an iPhone, but not at all heavy, the iPad is the perfect device for this application. It allows viewers to see the richness of the videos, but doesn’t tire them out as they tote it around campus.

Since the first pilot in July 2011, the enhanced tours have gotten positive reviews from both the guides and prospective students, but at this time, only about 15 to 20 percent of tours utilize iPads. Bradley’s admissions department hopes to have all of the kinks worked out soon, and plans to offer more iPad-enhanced tours in the future.

Slowly but surely, the iPad is being put to use in all sorts of innovative ways, across nearly every kind of industry. From government to retail, from the boardroom to the classroom, it’s happening here in central Illinois, just as it is across the country. iBi