Show up at a conference or event where government CIOs tend to congregate, and you’ll quickly notice more and more of them are carrying sleeve-like carrying cases under their arms. It’s the mark of an iPad adopter.

Their enthusiasm for Apple’s hottest device is hard to miss. Surely one reason they like the tablet is because it’s an easy-to-use platform for gadget apps. But more than that, the CIOs say that the iPad is making them more productive and efficient, and also has potential to change how technology is delivered to government employees and the citizens they serve.

One member of the iPad-carrying class is Doug Holt, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR). He’s one of a small number of employees in the agency who are piloting the iPad. They’re working together to figure out how the device can best be used.

What stands out first are the productivity gains, Holt said. He can quickly retrieve e-mail and his calendar on-the-go, and it integrates well with Microsoft products, he said. In addition, he has a couple of Web browsers installed, so he can quickly browse the websites he uses for everyday work functions. One of them is the DIR’s main website. “I also use a lot of Salesforce.com to manage a lot of different parts of our business. I don’t use the app as much because of the configuration it takes, so I just go to the website.”

Holt said he also uses a couple note-taking applications. One of them, WritePad, uses handwriting recognition to type out in real time what he writes by hand on the bottom of the tablet. “This is a really high-value item for me,” Holt said.

The Texas DIR is among the growing number of governments across the U.S. and abroad that either are piloting the iPad or have already implemented them. Several cities have issued them to council members in an effort to reduce paper consumption, while high schools and universities also are experimenting with them in the classroom setting. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, is among a growing number of government executives who are inseparable from their iPad.

The government buzz has even gone international: The Saskatchewan government reportedly issued iPads to its Cabinet ministers this month. "Frankly this technology is pretty easy to use,” the Canadian province’s premier, Brad Wall, told media. “And can be life changing in terms of the number of binders we usually have in our lives.”

That feeling is echoed stateside in the chatter of government CIOs. Utah Chief Technology Officer Dave Fletcher posted on his personal blog that he’s a fan of the iPad app Flipboard, which is presented like a “personal magazine” that aggregates the social content generated by friends as well as other sources chosen by the user. He said he’s talked to people who buy an iPad for this one app alone. “I use it to aggregate information for Utah government, Utah education, Utah media and much more,” Fletcher wrote.

Like any device, the iPad is not without concerns for government. Arlington, Va., CIO Jack Belcher mentioned some months ago via his Twitter page that iPads are making an impact on productivity, but issues remained in outsourcing support to Apple. Most governments are Microsoft shops, so rolling out an Apple product for government employees at large could complicate in-house support, as Belcher alluded to. The device’s inherent mobility is also another endpoint that chief information security officers will have to account for.

Worries aside, Holt thinks the iPad or something like it could transform how government delivers technology to its employees. He said on the iPad he’s trying out Jump Desktop, a multiprotocol remote desktop client. With such a tool, someday a government could choose to virtualize all desktops and manage them centrally — a money-saving strategy — and then give employees iPads and zero clients, which would become their workstation. In these frugal times, this combination of cooler and more mobile technology at lower cost could be difficult to argue against, Holt said.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor