There’s no question the Palm OS is the world leader in sales of handheld computers.

According to Gartner, a leader in information technology research, nearly 74 percent of all personal digital assistants (PDAs) shipped in 1999 used the Palm OS. Most of those were sold by 3Com, which has since spun off a separate company for Palm.

But now Palm has its eyes on the enterprise—a lush marketplace, given the current trade talk about mobile and wireless business (or, if you’re inclined to use buzzwords, m-business).

What does the world’s leader in handheld computers offer the enterprise? We recently posed that question to Dan Glessner, director of enterprise marketing for Palm.

“A lot of chief information officers today are recognizing the future of computing is moving into the handheld space,” Glessner said. “The traditional PC world, all of the benefits of a company’s IT investments, stop at the screen of the PC in that very tethered environment.…CIOs recognize that they need to be able to extend their IT investment and get the information where it needs to be, when it needs to be [there].”

How does Palm intend to help enterprises accomplish this? This article explores what Palm offers companies moving toward mobilizing.

The number one concern for enterprises: Cost
Last year, Palm began to explore the enterprise space by polling companies to learn more about what they wanted and needed from a handheld device. Companies told Palm their number one concern was price, Glessner said.

“Price point was a big driver for the very large deployments,” he said. “If you’re a large company looking at a handheld deployment for thousands of units, that starts adding up to serious dollars.”

To address that need for companies and consumers, Palm recently released the m100, a basic handheld that retails for $149, far less than other recent models, which begin at $399.

Keeping track of PDAs
The company also learned that enterprises want to track and coordinate the handheld devices being used within their company.

“They asked for better system management capabilities,” Glessner said.

To meet that need, Palm has created the HotSync Server. Introduced this summer, the server allows IT divisions to track Palms throughout the company, perform centralized backups, and distribute software more efficiently. (For more about the Palm HotSync Server, see “Join your Palms using the HotSync Server.”)

The HotSync Server works with another new product, the Palm Ethernet Cradle, which allows PDA users to link into the corporate network. This allows Palm users more flexibility about where they can perform a hot sync.

Better customer support
Enterprises also asked for more support from Palm, Glessner said. If Palms want to make the leap from glorified day planners to business-critical devices, companies have to know they can turn to Palm for technical support and training, he explained.

This year, Palm started its Escalation Support Program, a support effort with tiers of service, including the option for around-the-clock technical support, training, and a hardware replacement program.

Development tools for customized applications
Finally, companies asked for better tools to develop their own applications.

“We’re taking a multifaceted approach,” he said. “Some enterprises like to develop in-house; they have the capability, [so] that’s fine. Some prefer to buy off-the-shelf software. So we’re trying to provide the appropriate development tools for both.”

Palm is offering CodeWarrior and Satellite Forms, as well as a developer program, to assist companies who want to develop in-house solutions. But the company is also working with major independent software providers—including Oracle and PeopleSoft—to ensure they offer Palm OS versions of their software, Glessner said.

Ready to put Palms to work?
If you’re interested in using Palms to mobilize your workforce, where do you begin?

Begin where it makes sense for your business, recommended Glessner. In most cases, that will be where your business meets your customers—the sales force.

“The feeling is handheld devices are going to provide the most return on investment in this type of usage, because sales people, face-to-face with customers, are going to be able to get the information they need to provide a level of customer service at the right time or potentially to increase sales,” he said.

There’s no shortage of stories about innovative ways companies are using handhelds. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives circulation department drivers handhelds to track deliveries. Volvo uses Palms to automate the inspection process for cars exported to the U.S.
Palm offers online documentation about enterprise use. To read analysts’ reports, white papers, and other resources, visit the Enterprise Tools & Resources section of Palm’s site.
“While those companies chose customized solutions, in many cases, you’ll find Palm OS versions of software you’re already using,” Glessner said. There are over 5,000 enterprise-oriented software packages available for the Palm OS.

“It’s not a question of having to develop internal development expertise,” he said.

But if you are interested in developing your own software, Palm can help you train developers, and your developers don’t have to be C gurus to program for the Palm OS. Development for the Palm is form-oriented.

“You can also work with one of Palm’s partners,” Glessner said.

“Our desired approach is to work with solution providers—large ones like Anderson Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and IBM—large system integrators, as well as mid-tier systems integrators—Analyst International, March First, and Keene Associates—so there’s a large group of solution partners that we work very closely with,” he said.

Moving PDAs beyond the personal planner image
Companies that use PDAs for more than personal planners are still the minority, Glessner noted. He predicts the next wave of PDA users will focus on e-mail and Internet access capabilities. Soon after, users will see the potential for mobile e-business.

“Innovative companies are implementing handheld solutions today,” he said. “We’re enterprise-ready. We’ve got the capabilities that we’ve pulled together over the past year and a half of development, and we’ve got what enterprises need right now to fully take advantage of handhelds to see some significant business benefits.”
Is m-business a reality, a goal, or a pipe dream at your company? We’d like to know. Share your experience by e-mail, or post a comment.