DARD Management Notes: Information Technology

A tablet can be a useful addition to a farm business, but you still need your PC for many tasks
A tablet can be a useful addition to a farm business, but you still need your PC for many tasks

Running your business using a tablet rather than a PC: My role as an ICT Technologist at CAFRE gives me the opportunity to talk to many farmers about how well (or not) computer technology is meeting their business needs.

One aspect of technology which I am being asked about more and more is the use of tablets (or smartphones) as a replacement for a desktop or laptop computer. Tablets have many obvious advantages when compared to traditional computers; they are portable, have a long battery life, don’t need a keyboard or mouse and start up instantly ready to do work. It is easy to see why tablet devices are becoming the ‘goto’ device for many people accessing ICT. However tablet devices have limitations which do not make them suitable as computer replacements.

Where do I keep my data?

You wouldn’t consider purchasing a computer with 64 GB or less storage space. For most tablets this is all you get. If you have even a modest collection of files, including photos or videos, a tablet will not provide sufficient storage space. Technologies such as Cloud Storage and Network Attached Storage (NAS) have made it easier to manage large collections of data. However farming businesses need a PC based system with about 1000 GB (1TB) of storage to manage farm data now and into the future.

Surfing the net? Internet browsers are not all the same

Small, light, always on, easy to pick up and set down; for the majority of the time a tablet is an ideal tool to surf the net. You may notice that not all websites work well on all devices. Sometimes the text, images or buttons are too small and at other times you will see a message telling you “Content cannot be displayed on your device”. Visiting a site for the first time on a tablet or attempting to use an online service such as APHIS Online can be a frustrating experience, particularly if you are familiar with using the website on a PC. Browsers on tablets are different to the browser on your PC. All websites are designed to function correctly on a PC browser (usually the latest version of Internet Explorer), and if it works on your tablet, it can be as much by good chance as by design. Thankfully many website designers are overcoming this problem by developing mobile versions of their websites or apps, such as APHIS Mobile, designed to look and function correctly on a mobile device. As you cannot guarantee a website has been designed to be used on a tablet, you will still need space for a PC in your office.

Keyboards, printing and processing power – there is still life in the PC yet

When you need to sit down and do work that includes typing a lengthy email, printing out your MC2’s when moving cattle or fixing a few blemishes on photos of your best animals, it is best to do this at a computer with a full-sized keyboard and screen, your printer connected and enough processing power to do all three at the same time if necessary. Tablets don’t have the best screen size, connection options or processing power when compared to a PC.

Tablets have a role as a secondary device, useful for casual surfing, checking emails and viewing photos or movies, but if you wish to run your business effectively you will need to hold on to your PC for a little while longer.