What invoices don't tell you about the cost of PDAs

After pricing a bulk order of PDAs for your firm, you're ecstatic because you got a surprisingly good price. The initial cost may be low, but the total cost adds up once the PDAs are in use. Find out how to budget for less-obvious costs of ownership.

Wouldn't it be great if the purchase price of new equipment like PDAs was the only expense consideration you and the accounting team had to deal with? Cut a check, wait for delivery, and then the accountants can go on dealing with amortization, depreciation, or whatever other balance-sheet obligations come across their desks.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the cost of equipment almost always extends beyond the initial list price. Marginal costs including maintenance, accessories, and even user training all increase the total cost of ownership (TCO) that can unexpectedly hit the bottom line. Although TCO calculations involve a lot of pro forma speculation, are there certain surefire costs that you can bank on? When it comes to the TCO of PDAs, definitely. This article outlines some marginal costs that you should consider when buying PDAs for your enterprise.

The cost of synchronization
As soon as your staff members take their new PDAs out of the boxes and fire them up for the first time to configure them, synchronization expenses begin. Although it's an ongoing debate among IT professionals concerning which PDAs synchronize best to legacy systems, chances are good that the initial setup will require some labor on the part of your administrative staff.

To accurately forecast the cost of setting up a fleet of PDAs for the enterprise, form some representative groups and do a few dry runs. According to TechRepublic member Bill Davis, an administrator who handles the PDAs for the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, a simple test run of a select number of devices is a good way to pinpoint synchronization cost—especially for larger organizations.

"Get some pilot groups going," Davis said. "Take two [groups], three, whatever you decide, and see how long it takes to set them up. Take an average time, but also factor in how many times it takes the admin or whoever to go back and fix any breaks."

Davis acknowledged that there are many setup variables based on the applications that the user will need. Nonetheless, running a test synchronization with a select group of devices is far better than deploying expensive PDAs en masse across the enterprise only to find out that it's going to cost far more than expected to get them up and running.

Training users
When Paul Gott of the FieldPalm Solutions Division of the Elcon Corporation was shopping for a handheld device to run the company’s proprietary ToolTrac application, ease of use for the company's nontechnical job supervisors was the foremost consideration. Although Gott and company first tracked down an appropriate, user-friendly PDA and third-party application before they developed their in-house product, users still needed training. The company soon found out how expensive such orientation can be.

With 40 site foremen lined up to use the handheld device, training costs centered on two main issues: productivity loss and foremen turnover. The company estimated the cost of training to be about $300 an hour—not including transportation costs to and from training.

"We can't pull someone off of a site for a few days; it just can't be done," said Gott. "It turned out to be something like $2,500 per person for training. That's $100,000 original training cost and then an ongoing $20,000 per year because of employee turnover. As you can imagine, this wasn't approved."

Luckily, Gott's group was able to develop a more user-friendly point-and-click application, which reduced training costs from the original forecasted expenses to almost nothing.

Don't forget about upgrades
Depending on the operating system that a PDA is running, there may be a cost associated with software updates or security patches. Roger Growcock, an administrator with the development firm Kada Systems, has one or more of almost every PDA on the market either synchronized on his desk or stored in his office cabinet. In his experience, devices running on operating systems other than Windows CE often charge for security upgrade patches.

"Each time an update comes out for the OS, Microsoft gives it to you,” he said. “Last I heard, Palm wants $29.95 to update to their latest. You've got to look at these additional cost factors. If it's a security patch, you're going to have to have it, whether it's complimentary or for a fee."

Downtime for recharging
Another intangible cost is work time lost while recharging or replacing batteries. The issue for Davis is not the cost of disposable cell batteries but the time it takes for a user to either recharge the internal battery or find fresh cells.

"In my case, the cost of batteries is trivial when compared to lost time,” he said. “I take the cost of lost time to repower very seriously."

Are there more TCO considerations when it comes to PDAs?
Did you get burned with costs that you didn't expect with enterprise-wide PDAs? Do you have tips for forecasting ownership costs? Post a comment below and share your insight with TechRepublic members.


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