A Helping Hand for Handhelds

Analysts have plenty of tips to help IT staffs manage handheld computers and smart phones, as usage of such devices is expected to quadruple by 2002 and infiltrate corporations.

Many IT managers admit they aren’t prepared to support handhelds. So analysts are at the ready to help them decide some basic issues, such as whether they should standardize on a single platform or budget funds to synchronize setup. Experts’ recommendations vary.

In a research note, analyst Ken Dulaney at Gartner Group Inc. urged firms to create a product “shortlist” for users to buy from. But IT “should never expect that a single personal digital assistant model will ever be adopted,” he warned.

Analyst Gerry Purdy at Mobile Insights Inc. urged firms to settle on one platform by the year 2000. He said he believes that Microsoft Corp.’s Windows CE will be the best way to access company networks.

Forrester Group Inc. advises IT staffers to tell business departments to buy devices that will run custom applications, since that’s one area where they probably can gain a competitive advantage.

As for support, a report by Forrester analyst Matthew Nordan suggests moving synchronization functions from users’ desktops to back-end servers to provide more security and minimize version control problems. Such technology should be available by midyear from Puma Technology Inc. in San Jose, Forrester said.

Setting up synchronization will cost about $50 per user, the report said, which can be cost-justified by pointing out that a tech support visit for one device without a sync service program would cost about the same.

Gartner urges standardizing on a synchronization product to support a variety of devices.