Palm seeks to break Crackberry addiction

Company angles for fed market with new Treo

Palm's recent release of an upgraded Treo handheld device, along with competing products from Research in Motion, shows that the market for such devices is only growing larger.

Users can make mobile phone calls, send and receive e-mail or text messages, take photographs, view images, and edit documents with the handheld devices, making them valuable to anyone who spends a lot of time away from the office.

The government market seems to be just as eager for Treos and RIM BlackBerries as the commercial and consumer sectors are. The BlackBerry has become so ubiquitous ' and necessary ' that it has earned the sobriquet Crackberry, in honor of its addictiveness. But security concerns about data stored on the devices or transmitted via radio frequencies are still significant for users at some agencies.

'We have got to follow the pace of business that the private sector does,' said retired Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch, executive vice president of Suss Consulting. 'These devices are significant force multipliers. People have got to have these things.'

However, he said, the security issues are real.

'Many government decision-makers are becoming sensitive to the implications of relying on soft systems for command and control functions,' Skoch said. 'Cell phones are probably the most egregious examples of that. We keep relearning the lessons that cell phones are not command and control devices.'

When the devices are in the right hands and used for the right purposes, however, they become essential tools.

'Every executive who travels is expected to be in constant communication,' Skoch said. 'Because of that, we're becoming reliant on them.'

Anecdotally, BlackBerries are the device of choice among government users. However, Input and Federal Sources Inc. do not track the numbers for the individual devices.

Tara Griffin, Palm's vice president of sales for enterprise markets, said the new Treo 700p, introduced May 15, encrypts all the data it sends and uses passwords to protect data on the device.

'The federal government in particular is such an amazing opportunity for us,' Griffin said. Government employees are increasingly mobile, and telework is becoming more common, she added. In addition, commercial enterprises often adopt government standards.

Like other devices, the Treo 700p uses Evolution-Data Optimized protocols to achieve broadband-like speed, and the device can double as a modem for a laptop computer, she said.

'You can think about [it like] having Ethernet in your pocket,' Griffin said.

The Office of Personnel Management gives BlackBerries to some employees, said Ron Flom, OPM's associate director of management services. By using BlackBerries exclusively, including running its own BlackBerry enterprise servers, the agency controls the proliferation of device types, Flom said.

Like the Treo, the BlackBerry system encrypts transmitted data and uses passwords to protect data stored on the device, he said. OPM doesn't deal with classified information on its network, he added.

OPM issues BlackBerries only to those with a genuine need. Employees cannot use personal BlackBerries for work activities, he said.

Flom examines new BlackBerries to determine if new features warrant policy changes, but in general, RIM has not made improvements that would call for modifications.

'What we've seen over the past three or four years with BlackBerry is we've gotten improvements in the devices, but the functionality is pretty much the same,' he said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has about 1,000 employees using handheld devices, almost all of them BlackBerries, said Corey Booth, the SEC's chief information officer. Echoing Skoch's observations, Booth said the devices help employees remain productive while they are out of the office.

'We don't really use them for any enterprise purposes,' Booth said. 'We use them for e-mail and messaging and things like that.'

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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