The twin issues of cost and complex hook-ups to corporate systems make IT managers reluctant to embrace mobile devices and leave the once-hot handheld market hurting as it lags on adoption rates.
Analysts say the handheld industry has been impacted by the slow adoption of PDAs by enterprises, with a perception among users that handhelds "are not yet capable of delivering sufficient return on investment (ROI)".
Vendors of handheld devices had "dismal" sales last year. Product shipments dropped 9.1 per cent from their 2001 level, according to a new report by Dataquest, an arm of Gartner.
Group IT manager at aviation company, National Jet Systems, Steve Tucker, said IT managers were reluctant to purchase mobile devices for their organisations.
"PDAs represent a configuration, SOE and security nightmare, with very little control as to what applications users load on to them, and how they are used," he said.
Tucker said his organisation used PDAs, but only in a personal capacity. They were not recognised as part of the business' operating environment.
There were no intentions to change this policy, he said.
"I don't believe PDAs can offer much in the way of payback or ROI unless they provide some new business methodology or functionality," Tucker said.
"There may be a case where workers without access to any device might benefit from it, particularly in the areas dependant on manual or data input, but it largely depends on their ease of integration with other software systems, or what software is available to them."
Research director at Gartner (Australasia), Robin Simpson, said about 70 per cent of all PDAs were bought by consumers and only 30 per cent by business.
"Handhelds and other mobile devices are entering organisations through individual purchases," Simpson said. "In the corporate world, there is a lack of a clear ROI; organisations could consider spending their dollars in niche areas including field services, sales and merchandising,"
He said many organisations were making the mistake of trying to use or incorporate handhelds in their business. "Handhelds would probably only suit - or be required by 30 to 40 per cent of staff that have a mobile lifestyle and work requirement," he said.
Simpson said Gartner end-user purchasing surveys had shown that handhelds had a reasonably high priority, but in tough times did not rate high enough to warrant investment.
He said the market had become confused with users trying to evaluate the latest devices and operating systems available.
Wireless infrastructure was still immature, Simpson said, and end users had too many hassles getting wireless devices properly configured.
IDC Australia research director, Joel Martin, said IT managers could be reluctant to invest in handhelds because of pricing, cost of implementation and training.
"It's a back-end issue," he said. "Companies have invested so much in CRM [customer relationship management], SCM [supply chain management] and sales force automation, that it is a big issue to make sure it can all connect.
"It's a matter of synchronisation and ensuring that the data entered into the handheld will integrate frontend and backend.
"Companies spent billions of dollars in the late 1990s synchronising financial sales, procurement databases and logistics, so companies will question a handheld's worth if, when the sales force come back into the office, they have to re-enter their information in Excel."