The Business Utility of Handheld Devices - Page 2

 By Lynn Haber
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Palm also introduced the Palm Ethernet Cradle and extended its levels of customer support. According to the vendor, the Palm Ethernet Cradle is designed for use by networked corporations to provide handheld users full data synchronization services from anywhere in the business facility, such as a central location like the lobby of a building. This product allows mobile workers to synchronize away from their desks, says Glessner. Finally, the vendor now offers escalated multi-tier support, 24x7, help desk, training, replacement parts and extended warranty.

At IBM Corp., the company continues to improve its WorkPad product for enterprise use. The vendor's WorkPad C3, equivalent to the Palm Pilot Vx, was made available earlier this year. Three features differentiate IBM's handheld device from competitors' Palm OS devices, according to Robin Marley, manager market development for mobile brands at IBM: easy synch for Lotus Notes, DB2 EveryPlace, and IBM Mobile connect.

DB2 Everyplace Version 7.1.1, for example, is a small-footprint relational database of about 150K designed for low-cost, low-power, small form-factor devices such as PDAs, handheld personal computers or embedded devices, according to the company.

Like other industry players, IBM's Marley notes that the over the past 12 months, he's observed Fortune 500 companies endorsing handheld devices. Companies are testing the operating system and connectivity and they're making corporate purchases in orders of magnitude, he says.

Replacing Laptops

Countrywide Home Loans Inc., one of the largest independent home loan lenders in the U.S., based in Calabasas, Calif., is another enterprise exploring and expanding the way its employees use handheld devices. According to Mike Taliaferro, executive vice president at Countrywide, the company initially got its feet wet with Palm Pilots as a direct marketing scheme. A year ago, the company developed a Countrywide application that mimics its Web site, where customers can find out about the different types of home loans offered, interest rates, and branch locations. The application is now standard issue on all Palm VII units, as part of the Web clipping feature.

This application is great for direct consumer marketing reaching millions of users, he says.

However, Palm users can be found inside Countrywide, as well. According to Taliaferro, many of the company's 1,000 sales staff have purchased the devices themselves and use them for business purposes, such as wireless email, to check on loan rates, and to communicate with customers.

Although the company doesn't reimburse these employees for handheld device purchases, it will in the near future. In fact, according to Taliaferro, Countrywide announced that it plans to make Palm Pilots standard issue. Today, the company has a laptop reimbursement program but, according to the executive vice president, as soon as Countrywide adds an application-taking feature to the Palm devices, they will have the functionality to be as useful in the field as laptops are today. It's just a matter of dedicating the resources and time to developing the application, says Taliaferro.

Countrywide isn't the only company with plans to replace laptop units with Palm devices. Analysts International has already begun to do so. As we need to replace our field staffs laptops, we're issuing Palm Pilots instead, says Bocci. The company is actually replacing the laptop unit with a Palm device and a desktop computer. In the process, the company saves about $1,500 per user, she notes.

More Action

Although Palm OS devices today seem to be the unit of choice in the enterprise, according to industry watchers, they're not alone. In fact, Compaq Computer's iPaq seems to be hitting its stride, says Gartner's Dulaney, noting that Windows CE 3.0 is becoming more of a player thanks to improved developer tools and improved run time.

Vidur Luthra, product manager enterprise markets at Microsoft Corp., reports that the company is seeing two types of enterprise deployment for CE devices: horizontal, with companies distributing devices across the board to knowledge workers; and line of business, or vertical deployment, such as in the healthcare industry or financial services.

This article was originally published on Jan 10, 2001
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