US study finds real cost of PDAs six times price

The total annual cost of owning and supporting a handheld computer is about $US2,700, or six times the average purchase price, according to a study released last week.

The study, undertaken by Gartner Group, took some IT managers at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo '99 by surprise. But they quickly added that the numbers seemed plausible given the unpredictable nature of handhelds.

"Wow, that's real high" for annual costs, said Steven Engel, manager of network engineering at Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Co. Some users said Gartner is traditionally high in estimating costs of ownership, but Engel said "the number is believable because of the lack of understanding of the support needs" of handheld users.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said the time that end users spend synchronising devices is about 40 per cent of the total cost. That's based on an estimate of five minutes synchronising per day. "Even at five minutes per day, this activity is a new diversion of user time that costs enterprises more than they might think," Dulaney said.

Several IT managers said the costs are driven higher because companies don't have an orchestrated plan for managing handheld devices or for training end users so they can reduce help desk costs.

"The personal digital assistant phenomenon has largely caught IS organisations unprepared," Dulaney said.

Dulaney said companies should purchase standard personal digital assistants (PDA) and use server-based synchronisation software to reduce headaches and enhance security. But doing so requires administration and money, users said.

None of the IT managers interviewed here said they have elaborate systems for tracking PDAs or policies about what to do if a user tries to steal company data held on a PDA. "You can't prevent people from bringing in their own PDA, but it is harder to take away something that is somebody's personal property if a security problem develops," said Keith Bergman, an MIS manager at rocket motor builder Utah Propulsion Center.

Engel said his company purchased 150 PalmPilots for users to help establish a standard, but synchronisation and other administrative standards have been hard to set because upper management still views handhelds as a lower priority than other systems needs.

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