They've Got Your Whole Business in Their Hands

They're armed, they're vicious and they're coming after you. They're the personal digital assistant, or PDA, vendors, and from where I sit I can see them sharpening their PowerPoint presentations and their keynote speeches to put corporate purchasers in their crosshairs. Certainly anyone who has held onto his Palm shares for the last 12 months know full well about the volatility in the PDA market. Worldwide PDA shipments grew 17 percent in 2001, according to Cahners/In-stat, but that represented a significant slowdown from 2000. Cahners expects shipment levels to increase another 18 percent in 2002. Despite what they might tell you, leading PDA makers like Palm, Handspring, Compaq, Casio and HP are running scared. While the consumer market will continue to drive the PDA sector for at least the next few years, the U.S. recession has schooled these vendors: they can't count solely on the capricious tastes of Joe Circuit City to add shareholder value. We've already seen Microsoft plant its flag in the enterprise handheld space. The launch of the Pocket PC 2002 operating system last winter signaled a sea change for the company's handheld division. Included in the new OS are support for myriad wireless and networking protocols, remote IT control and other enterprise-friendly features. Microsoft has even commanded its OS licensees (handheld makers) to use the same processor, screen and Flash ROM. Market-share leader Palm, which has felt its lead slip slidin' away in recent months, wowed even grizzled industry observers last month with the launch of its i705 PDA with built-in, always-on wireless e-mail capabilities. The device is a frontal assault on the corporate users who have come to covet the Research In Motion BlackBerry PDAs with their continual e-mail access and QWERTY keyboards. So when PDA mongers come calling to your boardrooms, it will be time to hold their collective feet to the fire. You'll have to force them to commit to help you integrate these varied devices into your overall business and IT plans. How will they handle remote device and application management? Wireless networking on and off your campus? Security, both on the device itself and on your data as it flies through the either? What about ruggedness, and a hot-swap warranty when that rugged design fails? And if their answers don't jibe with your enterprise plans and provide a clear path to ROI, don't hesitate to send these people back to Circuit City.
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