Palm’s reaching out

New management. New product lines. New strategic direction. It’s no secret that Palm Solutions Group is working hard to turn around its fortunes. The company’s recent line of Tungsten PDAs demonstrates a renewed focus on cutting-edge technology. New business-oriented software, including server-based wireless e-mail tools, have finally dragged Palm out of the “one PDA, one desktop” era. Now even Palm Inc.’s own CIO, Marina Levinson, is getting in on the act.

Levinson’s group heads up CIO Mindshare events intended to let other CIOs meet and discuss mobile and wireless issues. The inaugural meeting happened last year, but Palm says it hopes to hold the events about every six months. The meetings are just the latest attempt by Palm to build stronger ties to its enterprise customers — a group that had reason to feel somewhat ignored during Palm’s early years.

Palm has been around since 1996, yet it wasn’t until the very end of 1998 that it held its first Palm Advisory Council meeting to tap enterprise IT managers for ideas. Facing increased competition from Palm OS-based devices built by the likes of Sony and Handspring, as well as an onslaught of Microsoft-powered PocketPC PDAs, Palm finally recognized the need to grow up from its grassroots origins and become an enterprise partner. So starting in 2001, with the Advisory Council and specific events for CIOs, meetings doubled in frequency.

It appears to be working, if advisory council member Jeff Roggensack’s experience is any indication. Roggensack, senior vice president and CIO of RehabCare Group, a St. Louis-based provider of temporary health-care staffing and program management, attended the Mindshare event. While Roggensack does get to offer Palm his suggestions, he says the biggest benefit so far has come from networking. Roggensack found another IT manager at the first meeting who was working with the same remote synchronization vendor, and the two have compared notes ever since.

Roggensack says that the council and other Palm outreach programs aren’t guarantees that he won’t switch platforms later — but they certainly help. “I want the vendors I choose to be successful,” he says. “If they can provide me some support through both the networking of the Palm Advisory Council and other meetings with them, then those are good things that help me with the relationship.”