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Synchronizing Corporate Data on Handheld Devices

Many handheld devices have found their way into organizations via personal purchases by employees. As a result, mobile and remote employees are demanding the ability to synchronize corporate data with their device in order to increase responsiveness and productivity.


Users have two options to synchronize corporate data with their device. The first option is to use desktop re-director software. Most devices come with desktop re-director software to synchronize the user's desktop personal computer (PC) with the device.

The second option is to provide a server-based synchronization solution so users can synchronize their device with corporate servers, without the necessity of desktop software.

Total Costs of Ownership

Each synchronization solution results in a different handheld total cost of ownership (TCO) that has been largely ignored. According to industry analysts, the TCO for a handheld device, not using a server-based synchronization solution, is approximately $2,500 annually per user. When you account for the added hardware, software, wireless airtime and support costs for wireless access, the annual cost for each handheld soars to at least $4,300 per user.

Calculations for handheld TCO must account for many factors. Obviously, any handheld TCO calculation must include the device hardware and software costs, but the bulk of the TCO is the cost of the IT help desk, IT support and user time. Handheld TCO components in an organization that relies on a desktop re-director solution for synchronizing data between a user's desktop PC and a handheld, requires that every user install desktop software, attach a cradle to the desktop, configure the desktop re-director software and learn to use the desktop re-director software. When each user is using the desktop software, there will be questions and problems.

In an organization with potentially hundreds or thousands of handheld users, the users are going to call the IT help desk and ask for help, which drives up IT's handheld support costs. The amount of time a user spends working with the IT help desk to solve a desktop re-director problem also has a measurable effect on TCO. Don't forget the amount of time a user may spend troubleshooting an issue before they even contact the IT help desk.

With the variety of devices in use, wireless access is available on some models. Again, while convenient for the user, wireless access leads to increased TCO. Wireless access requires additional hardware purchases, such as wireless modems and expansion jackets, and wireless airtime charges.

With a server-based synchronization solution, the TCO costs don't completely go away, but they can be significantly lowered. You still have the cost of the handheld hardware and software. With a server-based synchronization solution, you also have the additional cost of the server hardware and server. However, while troubleshooting a server-based solution, the IT administrator can work on the server in one location and solve the issue. And when the administrator solves the issue, all users can immediately benefit. Software upgrades are also much easier. If the administrator upgrades the server-based synchronization software, everyone gets the benefit. A significant benefit that leads to lower handheld TCO when using a server-based synchronization solution is the fact that one solution enables synchronization to multiple device platforms. Every enterprise has multiple device platforms, such as Pocket PC, Palm, Research In Motion (RIM) and Symbian. There is no evidence that there will be a clear handheld market winner in the short term, and enterprises must plan for the fact that users will have a personal preference when selecting a handheld.

A server-based synchronization solution that supports all major device platforms will also help keep handheld TCO under control.

Technology changes quickly. For a more up to date discussion on this topic, please visit the Mobile/Smartphones section at FindLaw’s Technologist blog.

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