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CEO’s shouldn’t knock Apple’s iPad as a passing consumer craze, according to a new report from Gartner.

The research firm says the iPad – and the forthcoming slew of competing products from rivals like RIM, Samsung, HP and Dell – have the potential to change the way businesses use technology, and CEO’s would be wise to take heed.

“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,” Stephen Prentice, Gartner Fellow and vice president, said in a statement. “It is more than just the latest consumer gadget; and CEOs and business leaders should initiate a dialogue with their CIOs about if they have not already done so.”

Without a good reason not to, Gartner recommends that IT organizations take iPad support seriously for key users are plan for widespread support by mid-2011. CEOs should work with their teams to evaluate how the iPad could be used by the company and by the competition, calling the technology “hugely disruptive to the business models and markets of many enterprises.”

Gartner said it expects iPad sales to drive the tablet market to reach 19.5 million units in 2010, hitting 54.8 million in 2011 and more than 208 million in 2014.

 “Individuals are willing to buy these devices themselves, so enterprises must be ready to support them,” Prentice said.  “While some IT departments will say they are a ‘Windows shop’, and Apple does not support the enterprise. Organizations need to recognize 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.”

While the iPad is not a notebook replacement for many, it facilitates information sharing. In addition to book and magazine publishing, the iPad is making its way into other industries. Architects, realtors and salespeople can access and share information in the field. Healthcare organizations are also interested, Gartner said.

 “While there are no certainties, the iPad looks set to become a market-disrupting device, like the iPod before it,” Prentice said.. “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.”