A few months back, Box.net launched its effort to deliver 20 brand new iPads to a business that could make use of Apple's tablet and the cloud sharing service in an innovative and interesting way. Box.net eventually chose D7 Consulting, a construction consulting company in Newport Beach, California, to receive the iPads. Yesterday, I drove down to the company HQ to see the beginning of the project. Over the next 12 months, Box.net will provide not only the free iPads but also free service to D7's employees. Together, the two companies hope to get a good look at, as Box's Marketing Communications Manager Sean Lindo put it, "the possibilities and realities of cloud and mobile devices for how people need to work today."
TUAW will be following up periodically with Box.net and D7 to see how the project is going. As you can hear directly from D7 CEO Joe Daniels in the second half of this post, the next year is going to be an interesting experiment, not only to see how his employees are able to use iPads with their work on construction sites but also to see how Apple's tablet can be used reliably and well in the workplace. In the gallery below, you can see yesterday's unboxing. Read on for more on how this all came about and what challenges Daniels expects to face in the coming weeks.
D7 originally entered the Box.net contest thanks to employee Terrell Woods; Woods is a TUAW reader, and he had already been thinking about using mobile and cloud technology to help run the business when he saw the iPad opportunity. With Daniels' approval, he quickly submitted a short application. After Box sorted through the hundreds of entries and ran a few more followup calls, D7 was chosen as the firm to receive the free iPads and Box.net service.
As part of the program, employees will not only get free iPads to use but also copies of Quickoffice and Docs To Go for the devices. Additionally, Box plans to use the program as a testing experience for its own product; the full support team is on call for D7 to offer help and feedback, and D7 employees are being asked to fill out weekly questionnaires about how they use the service and the technology. There will be a Flip camera donated to the office to share feedback via video as well.
Mainly, the iPads will be used, Daniels says, to help the company's "Quality Assurance Officers" (QAOs) send reports and photos back to the office as soon as they're filed and taken. As soon as it was confirmed that the company would be a part of the program, Daniels bought his own iPad and started putting together a workflow, which they eventually plan to scale out to the rest of the company. "We're going ten miles an hour right now, learning, doing a little of this [and a] little of that," he says. "Hopefully, in a week we'll be going 30 and then 100 miles an hour in the next month, as everyone has [an iPad] and gets to working."
Daniels says D7 did look at other mobile solutions for delivering these reports, but the iPad ended up being pretty ideal, not just in terms of cost but also in terms of its sturdiness while out on construction sites (where you'll find "trucks, dirt, concrete, steel, whatever else it may be -- hot asphalt, water") and its usability. Most of D7's reports and documents will be drop-down forms, but Daniels has also looked at using a stylus and handwriting for the members of his staff who aren't completely comfortable with a keyboard. He says that the lack of a camera on the device was originally an issue, but his plan is to go with Apple's camera connectors to help employees share photos from directly on site.
It's quite an undertaking, and while Daniels admits that D7 hasn't been a part of anything quite like this before (in terms of testing a new technology in his business), he's ready to take a challenge and hopefully reap some rewards. "This is the area that we can gain the most advantage," he says, "so I really want to push myself in this direction. I can't wait."
We'll be chatting and visiting with Box and D7 in the future to see how this experiment plays out. Stay tuned to see how a traditional business like this can try to make good use of Apple's magical and revolutionary device.