The Business Utility of Handheld Devices

Companies are beginning to put PDAs in the hands of their traveling employees, instead of laptops -- and enhanced functionality is making this an increasingly attractive option.

By Lynn Haber | Posted Jan 10, 2001
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Analysts International is an active participant in its own destiny. By choosing to embrace unmanaged Palm Pilot users within the organization, the IT consulting and technology services company is today able to respond more immediately to potential customers, and is subsequently closing more deals.

Founded in 1966, Minneapolis, Minn.-based Analysts International currently has 5,000 employees and 48 locations. About 12 months ago, the company saw the wave of Palm users within its employee base growing. Rather than be buried beneath the wave, AI opted to take a harder look at how this smaller form-factor device could make its more than 250 person sales staff more effective in their jobs.

Today, with well over 100 Palm Pilot users, AI believes it's just scratching the surface of what these handheld units can do to improve business. Fieldforce workers need to be where the action is, and companies need to provide them with the same IT support they get in the office, says Joanne Bocci, TITLE at Analysts International.

Using a mix of Palm Pilot unitsPalm IIIs, Palm Vs and Palm VIIssales staff and some executive managers can access standard personal information management (PIM) applications, such as calendar, e-mail and addresses, as well as the corporate customer relationship management (CRM) system and the employee relationship management system.

Although not all businesses are as aggressive as Analysts International when it comes to the corporate adoption of handheld devices, industry watchers say a growing number of companies are acknowledging that these small computing units are useful business tools. They're just in the process of figuring out how to let them in the front door while doing away with renegade, backdoor, handheld users.

In fact, according to Tim Scannell, analyst at Mobile Insights, a Mountain View, Calif.-based consultancy that tracks the mobile and wireless markets, many Fortune 500 corporations have mobile wireless strategies in place; 10% to 15% have mobile wireless-enabled systems. Ninety percent of handheld use, today, is PIM applications, he says.

Falling into Place

With an estimated 10 million personal digital assistants (PDAs)--Palm and Pocket PCs--already in the hands of users, and an additional six to seven million sold each year, according to the Gartner Group Inc., Stamford, Conn., the use of these devices within organizations is poised for growth.

We're already seeing about ten percent of these units enhanced with some corporate applications, says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner.

At Palm Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., Dan Glessner, director of enterprise marketing, reports that in the last 12 months there's been a shift in how the enterprise views handheld devices--from seeing them as toys to serious business tools.

In fact, one way Palm keeps track of enterprise usage is through product registration cards. Based on a review of nine million plus user cards, the company has learned that 80% of all Palm units are synchronized in a business environment. In addition, 40% of all Palm units are being paid for directly by companies, or companies are reimbursing users for their purchases. That represents an increase over the last year, says Glessner.

That last figure jives with figures reported by International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, Mass., last spring. According to IDC, 37% of survey respondents said that their departments will pay for their personal PDAs over the next 12 months.

Device Enhancements

Not only are more devices creeping into the market, the devices themselves are maturing to include a broad array of functionality that targets the business community.

For example, Palm continues to introduce functionality on Palm Pilot devices with the enterprise in mind. Palm HotSync Server Software, introduced about five months ago, is a platform for handheld management, integration and development, according to Glessner. The vendor plans on introducing Version 2 next spring. Our plan is to integrate this product with system management products from companies like Computer Associates and Tivoli, he says.

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