Some IT organizations are embracing handheld technologies as fantastic tools for increased productivity and organization. Others have been less than enthusiastic about putting business data into devices that can be easily stolen and difficult to track and support. Whether to move into handheld technology is a decision each organization has to analyze and make for itself.

In our organization, we conducted an extensive analysis and elected not to support handheld devices. Security issues and a lack of related business applications contributed to our decision. We weighed the cost of ongoing support and developing and deploying business applications against the benefit of increased productivity. We didn’t have the infrastructure necessary to support such devices, and the cost of creating such infrastructure was too high. Adding staff to support handhelds was not an option.

We also lacked the user sensitivity and inventory-control mechanisms to ensure that handhelds would be properly cared for and secured. We even avoid laptops, which are often damaged, lost, or stolen, because users are not conscientious. The problem of lost devices, both laptops and handhelds, also increased our concerns about data security.

We also determined that our users probably weren’t technologically astute enough for us to roll out handhelds. A significant number of our users are either still resistant to PCs or don’t know how to use them properly. Deploying handheld devices into such a community would significantly increase daily support calls.

There was no solid business need for us to support PDAs. The increase in productivity and added convenience through the use of handheld devices were nominal compared to the ongoing support cost. We simply did not have the need for business applications that would leverage handheld wireless technology. We took an objective look at all our current applications and determined that expanding them to include wireless support would not be cost-effective. We also tried to envision new applications that would perhaps increase productivity and business workflow, but the costs of developing such solutions were phenomenal.

We’re confident that we made the right decision about handhelds, for now. By developing detailed documentation during our investigation, we are prepared to respond to future inquires made by upper management regarding this choice.

If you are evaluating PDAs for your organization, here are some topics to cover as you explore using and supporting handheld devices.

Draft a company policy
Some of the challenges presented by the deployment of handheld devices include rollouts, support, tracking, uniformity, usage, and deciding whether to adopt advanced wireless technology. Before you begin launching into handhelds, you should draft and distribute a formal policy on handheld use. Make sure to select your language carefully so as to include provisions for all sorts of handheld devices: Palms, PocketPCs, wireless Palms, handheld devices (i.e., HP Jornada 720), and tablet PCs.

Your company policy on handhelds should include:

  • Security protocols and procedures such as enabling the password-protection feature upon activation or locking the device in desk drawers when leaving it unattended. Make sure you notify users about how to secure their devices when at home or away from the office.
  • Notations on company policies on synchronizing company information since many users will want to take advantage of having portable versions of confidential and private company documents on hand for meetings.
  • Guidelines on synchronizing with the company’s e-mail server. E-mail, like company document files, are business intellectual property and needs to remain within the organization and/or confidential.
  • Statements on the appropriateness of synchronizing with external Web sites and services (i.e., AvantGo).
  • IT organization support parameters and hours for handhelds. Employees tend to expect 24-hour support for company-owned handhelds.

It’s important to thoroughly document how you will track and maintain inventory of these devices. They will be the most likely devices to “disappear” when an employee leaves the company. Make sure you create a workflow, in conjunction with your HR department, on ensuring that portable devices are retrieved. Make sure your HR and legal departments review your policy before it is distributed.

Can your organization support handheld devices?
Here are some other topics to consider before determining whether your organization can properly support handheld devices:

  • Determine the purchasing policy. In some organizations, it may benefit employees, rather than the employer, to purchase handhelds.
  • Consider uniform requirements. As with PCs, it’s best to stick with one manufacturer and, even better, to stick with one specific model to maintain your service level agreements.
  • Track user proficiency. Think about requiring a minimum level of user proficiency before issuing company-bought devices to employees. Using a handheld device effectively and efficiently requires a certain level of proficiency with the PC, especially when dealing with synchronization issues. This strategy will greatly reduce the number of support calls.
  • Create documentation. Use internal documentation to determine how you will deal with associated implementation issues (how to handle Windows 2000 workstation security issues).
  • You should also be ready to protect your devices from new software viruses that target handhelds. Make sure you have included this in your cost analysis.

Ongoing support and maintenance
One of the biggest reasons not to move into the handheld realm is the cost of ongoing support and maintenance. An IT department will receive a lot of calls from users having difficulties with their devices. Make sure you have enough resources and staff to cover these calls. If you don’t, hold off until you do or limit your rollout to savvy users only.

These devices are simple to operate, but you’ll run into headaches when dealing with synchronization and data integrity issues. Train your help desk staff well on using and supporting Palm devices through hands-on experience during the evaluation phase. To help reduce support calls, plan to roll out to a beta group before the entire organization.

Making a business case for handhelds
Like all IT projects, you must make a solid business case for introducing and managing handheld devices. Sometimes, a general increase in productivity is a good-enough argument (so long as you can back it up with an ROI number), but some organizations require more than that. If your organization requires more justification, begin educating yourself on the latest wireless technologies (WAP, Bluetooth) to leverage your investment in handheld devices. Other companies have created wonderful applications using wireless handheld devices to aid in every segment of their organization. However, they’ve made an overall investment in putting application developers to work for them, investing in additional server hardware, transmission devices, and inventory control devices to build their wireless infrastructure.

One of the biggest considerations in implementing wireless solutions is the cost of bandwidth. Study service provider costs and watch any overage penalties. Total these costs and you’ll come up with a hefty number, so make sure you have ROI numbers to justify these costs.

As handheld devices become widespread in the mainstream population, the demand for support and management of such devices within your organization will increase. Make sure to prepare upper management for the total cost of ownership of these devices. Your in-depth analysis will be a real eye-opener—both to the realities of supporting true portable computing and to the opportunities it brings to advance your business.

Have you created a company policy for handheld usage?

If you have developed a policy, we’d like to hear about it. Send us some mail or post a comment.