IT risks chaos in handheld boom
February 9, 1999
by Matt Hamblen and Sharon Gaudin
(IDG) -- Corporate IT managers not only are largely unprepared to deal with the growing use of PalmPilots, smart phones and Windows CE-based handhelds for tracking E-mail and contact data, but they also seem oblivious to the chaos that threatens them.
Although users sometimes sneak these products in the back door, few companies have adopted policies dictating which handheld platforms and software applications are approved for purchase or will be supported by the firm help desk, users and analysts said.
For example, a Computerworld poll of 85 information technology managers showed that 51% don't officially support handhelds and 53% aren't concerned about data security with handhelds.
That could spell trouble for IT shops untrained in maintaining or writing applications for handhelds and unprepared for the workload. Security threats from handhelds, especially wireless ones, should be a greater priority as handhelds get connected to corporate networks, analysts warned.
At most companies, "the only policy is to ignore them for as long as they can," said Jack Gold, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Westboro, Mass.
That's because IT managers tend to think of handhelds as "harmless little machines, but [they] have to be impressed that they are very powerful computers" that are carrying vital corporate data, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
"A number of people use them here, but we have no policy," said Kevin Perry, a producer at Red Star Entertainment Inc. in Research Triangle Park, N.C. "At this point, it's no different than a card file the person is carrying around. It's more about human resources policies. If you can't retain people, they're going to walk and take their information with them regardless of how portable it might be."
Put it in writing
Analysts urge IT managers to develop policies governing handhelds now, before more software is developed to connect them to corporate LANs.
For example, users can defend the IT infrastructure by setting software synchronization standards so IT can avoid too many data interfaces that are hard to support.
"We don't have a handheld policy, but we eventually [will] need one because people are showing up with them, and so far we don't support them," said Raymond Gloor, project manager at ABN AMRO Information Technology Services Co. in Chicago, which supports LaSalle National Bank. The danger is that IT could find itself with more work than expected months later, he said.
So far, his company doesn't allow users to connect remotely to company data through the company firewall, but pressure is expected to change that.
Some organizations have settled on one platform. At Concorde Solutions Inc. in Concord, Calif., PalmPilots are already a "religion," said President and CEO Isaac Applbaum. Still, "when PalmPilots go wireless, it will be a revolution."
"We don't have any [handheld] policies," Applbaum said. "I think about it. I grapple with security issues all day long -- PCs, notebooks, handhelds. At some point, we'll need more policies, but not yet."
At Econometrics Inc., a database marketing firm in Chicago, handhelds are becoming a normal part of a worker's equipment. Brian McGuire, vice president of interactive technologies, said he expects that within 18 months, users who now get laptops will also get handhelds such as the yet-to-be-released wireless Palm VII devices that feature Web "clipping".
Indeed, the number of handhelds is expected to quadruple in the U.S. by 2002 to 10 million units, but already IT managers who are Gartner clients are "freaked out" over handheld support concerns and wonder if they should ban them, Dulaney said. "You can try to kick them out, but you'll never win that game," he said.
Analysts recommend IT do much to handle the invasion, including making sure users choose the correct products for their needs. For instance, personal digital assistants are often poor E-mail devices, if they function that way at all.
Finally, as a condition of employment, users should be told that the company has a right to inspect any handheld for company data, some analysts said.
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