Best Way to Build Your Mobile Enterprise

In this installment of IT Agenda, eWeek Labs examines the state of enterprise handheld computing and discusses how IT managers can help their companies make the most of this resource by maintaining a flexible and secure mobile infrastructure.

In the past 10 years, handheld computers have developed from overpriced, underpowered electronic oddities to become legitimate business tools. And thats not surprising—the history of computing has been marked by a trend toward increasingly convenient and widely distributed terminals.

In this installment of IT Agenda, eWeek Labs examines the state of enterprise handheld computing and discusses how IT managers can help their companies make the most of this resource by maintaining a flexible and secure mobile infrastructure.

With handheld computers, the border between corporate and consumer is especially blurred—eWeek Labs fields frequent queries from readers about whether and how they can use personal handheld devices to replace notebook systems while on the road.

Whether or not IT managers formally deploy handhelds for their workers, employees are using these devices to access and store sensitive enterprise data. As a result, IT managers must account for these devices in their infrastructure planning.

Like their larger desktop- and notebook-based cousins, the usefulness of handheld computers depends directly on the quality and timeliness of the data available to them.

Palm Inc. built its business around enabling individual users to take their contact, task and calendar data in hand, and the mobilization of e-mail and personal information manager data remains the central application for handheld computers.

Server-based synchronization with products such as Extended Systems Inc.s XtndConnect Server and Wireless Knowledge Inc.s Workstyle, however, provide corporate users with much wider and more productive access to their data.

Handheld device users who are away from their desktop sync cradles can use XtndConnect and Workstyle to access, for example, updated meeting information on Microsoft Corp.s Exchange or Lotus Notes groupware systems. Whats more, these products support a variety of mobile device platforms, including Palm OS, Windows CE and Symbian Ltd.s Symbian OS units.

Microsofts Mobile Information Server 2002 provides similar functionality but limits companies to Microsofts own Windows CE-based devices. We recommend that sites opt instead to keep their platform options open. (Microsoft has also recently announced that it will discontinue MIS as a stand-alone product and integrate it into Exchange.)

Mobile devices are more personal in nature than laptop or desktop computers, so user preference is an important consideration. More importantly, the relative immaturity of the handheld computer market ensures that new devices will constantly appear and others will lose the support of their makers. By maintaining a willingness to support a diverse group of devices, IT managers can keep users happy, insulate them from product extinction and remain ready to take advantage of new platforms.