There’s an observed trend among enterprise users to move to embrace the iPad, now big business is being urged to make serious plans to integrate the device into their IT infrastructure, on strong advice from the Gartner Group.

“It is not usually the role of the CEO to get directly involved in specific technology device decisions, but Apple’s iPad is an exception,” said Stephen Prentice, Gartner Fellow and vice-president.

“It is more than just the latest consumer gadget; and CEOs and business leaders should initiate a dialogue with their CIOs about it if they have not already done so.”

The analysts say the iPad is on course to disrupt the tech ecosystem and to cause some long-held assumptions around technology and the Mac versus WIndows debate to transform.

They believe the iPad will drive 19.5 million unit sales this year, with tablets set to kick to 54.8 million unit sales in 2011, with Apple leading this new charge. Add iPad to Mac sales and Apple is the biggest US PC maker.

That’s on a day a senior Microsoft exec has admitted that tablets (and with 95 percent share there’s only one tablet out there, the iPad) are indeed “cannibalizing netbook sales”.

Gartner is recommending that IT orgs should introduce at least a basic level of iPad support within their infrastruture, and in doing so the analysts demolish the Mac v PC argument.

“While some IT departments will say they are a ‘Windows shop’, and Apple does not support the enterprise. Organisations need to recognise that there are soft benefits in a device of this type in the quest to improve recruitment and retention. Technology is not always about productivity.”

Gartner is urging creative approaches to iPad deployment, “because the iPad has the potential to be hugly disruptive to the business models and markets of many enterprises.”

They see it impacting in consumer markets, book and magazine publishing, architects offices, estate agents/realtors, education, financial markets, sales, healthcare, retail, hospitality, air travel and many other industries.

This is a remarkable report from usually conservative analysts, Gartner, particularly the conclusion in which Prentice says, “While there are no certainties, the iPad looks set to become a market-disrupting device, like the iPod before it. Even if you think it is just a passing fad, the cost of early action is low, while the price of delay may well be extremely high.”

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