A recent post by Eric Lai on ZDNet got me thinking: SAP really got this right.

They’re now the 2nd largest consumer of iPads in the world, but that’s not the part that they got right (Apple might disagree).

iPads are the best thing to happen to enterprise legacy applications since Windows – they offer benefits in usability, portability (your back will thank you), and cost savings. They provide near-immediate savings in training and hardware. But these great reasons to use iPads are not really what stood out about SAP’s decision.

What SAP did right, that many other companies do wrong, is this: they created an immediate business tool with the iPad, rather than just a flashy benefit to the top dogs. They set themselves up to eventually phase out more expensive technologies – maybe not now, but mark my words, this will make a difference in the bottom line.

Mr. Lai writes, “SAP’s rollout was different. Every iPad came with a suite of useful enterprise apps. Salespeople and managers got CRM and BI dashboards, along with the standard e-mail and VPN. These made the iPads more than toys, but real tools.”

A former employer of mine began a partial roll-out of tablet devices while I was there. The intent was for sales to use this device as a featured item to demonstrate the technology we created to potential users.

The vision: “Imagine this, Customer – a world where you have an iPad and you can complete all your important tasks from said iPad!”

The problem: The person quoting the above vision couldn’t do that themselves.

In this example, and the case of so many companies with whom we discuss mobile strategy, is that this sort of deployment simply creates a distraction. The tablet simply becomes a plaything that only comes out for a brief part of a meeting, then is retired until the desire to play Angry Birds becomes overwhelming.

The great decision by SAP here is loading those business apps, and orienting the users who receive the device first to its use as a business tool. That way, users learn to use it for its benefits in monitoring trends, accessing applications, and collaborating with others.

Since I am part of an agency that develops mobile applications for SAP customers, as well as other enterprise purposes, I may be biased here – but this approach is vastly superior than the more common one, where a company deploys the device, leaves users to find their own uses for it (Angry Birds), and eventually delivers an application that is useful in their daily activities. By the time that happens, the tablet is more of a distraction than a tool.

Read more: Facts About How General Mills Uses SAP on the iPad