Handhelds fail to woo IT managers

Twin issues of cost and complex hook-ups to corporate systems make IT managers reluctant to embrace mobile devices and leave the once-hot handheld market hurting as it lags on adoption rates.

Analysts say the handheld industry has been impacted by the slow adoption of PDAs by enterprises, with a perception among users that handhelds "are not yet capable of delivering sufficient return on investment (ROI)".

Vendors of handheld devices had "dismal" sales last year, with product shipments dropping 9.1 per cent from their 2001 level, according to a new report by Dataquest -- a unit of Gartner.

Steve Tucker, group IT manager, at aviation company, National Jet Systems, said IT managers are reluctant to purchase mobile devices for their organisations.

"PDAs represent a configuration, SOE and security nightmare, with very little control as to what applications users load on to them, and how they are used," he said.

Tucker said his organisation uses PDAs, but only in a personal capacity, "and they are not recognised as part of the business's operating environment".

"There are no intentions to change this policy.

"I don't believe PDAs can offer much in the way of payback or ROI unless they provide some new business methodology or functionality," he said.

"There may be a case where workers without access to any device might benefit from it, particularly in the areas dependant on manual or data input, but it largely depends on their ease of integration with other software systems, or what software is available to them."

Robin Simpson, research director, mobile and wireless, Gartner (Australasia), said about 70 per cent of all PDAs are purchased by consumers and only 30 per cent by business.

"Handhelds and other mobile devices are entering organisations through individual purchases. In the corporate world, there is a lack of a clear ROI; organisations could consider spending their dollars in niche areas including field services, sales and merchandising," Simpson saidHe said many organisations are making the mistake of trying to use or incorporate handhelds in their business. "Handhelds would probably only suit -- or be required by 30 to 40 per cent of staff that have a mobile lifestyle and work requirement."

Simpson said Gartner end-user purchasing surveys have shown that handhelds have a reasonably high priority, but in tough times do not rate high enough to warrant investment.

He said confusion has exploded in the market, with users trying to evaluate the latest devices and operating systems on the market.

Wireless infrastructure is still immature, he said, and end users have too many hassles getting wireless devices properly configured.

Joel Martin, research director, IDC Australia, said IT managers could be reluctant to invest in handhelds because of pricing, cost of implementation and training.

"It's a back-end issue. Companies have invested so much in CRM (customer relationship management), SCM (supply chain management) and sales force automation, that it is a big issue to make sure it can all connect. It's a matter of synchronisation and ensuring that the data entered into the handheld will integrate frontend and backend. Companies spent billions of dollars in the late 1990s synchronising financial sales, procurement databases and logistics, so companies will question a handheld's worth if, when the sales force come back into the office, they have to re-enter their information in Excel," Martin said.

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