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Making a Cafeteria Plan

There's a way to accept wireless into the enterprise that lets IT control the number of devices and the levels of support, while still giving end users some choice. Find out what Gartner calls "the Cafeteria Plan."


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ven as wireless hardware diversifies (see sidebar "Inspecting the Ranks"), there's a simultaneous convergence of sorts going on, but that convergence is happening inside devices, not outside.

"The great thing about wireless technology," said Ken Dulaney, vice president and research area director for Gartner, "is that it will permit you to do everything. You're going to talk into your camera. You're going to write notes on your phone. Everything will do everything. So there will be functional convergence but probably not a broad sense of physical convergence—in fact more so, it will be divergence."

Functionality is not the only kind of convergence on the software side. Though the saturation point for new hardware and form factors still lies well into the future, the universe of operating systems and platforms that wireless applications run on is finally getting a little more manageable. Though there are a few devices with outlying operating systems—such as the RIM Blackberry, Danger Hiptop, and the Linux-based Zaurus—the majority of PDAs and smartphones come in one of three flavors: PalmOS, Windows CE-based devices, and Symbian devices. Of course, this still leaves IT departments with an infinite number of combinations and support decisions to make.



The Cafeteria Plan
Gartner doesn't advocate that IT departments try to support any and every device that crosses the organization threshold. It's an impossible goal, a masochistic fantasy. Instead, Gartner recommends that organizations create a "cafeteria plan," offering users a limited choice of devices with varying support options. Such a plan lets you provide your user base with device options that more closely suit their personal preferences, yet also contain costs and development complexity.

"Allocate budget to users, give them a list of supported devices, and let them choose from that list up to the amount of the budget," says Dulaney. "You'll have happier users because they'll get what they want and you'll contain your costs."

The easiest way to do this, he says, is to categorize all devices into three levels of support.

"Level No. 1 is: if you will use this machine (that's our standard) we will support it every single way that we support PCs. We will build the applications. We will buy the device for you."

"Level No. 2 is the most important one. If you in fact have a level-two device, we will permit you to have data access through our standard PIM synchronization software that is on all our desktops. As long as your device is supported by that PIM synch we'll let you come through and get data. But we won't support your device, we won't buy it for you, and we won't answer questions on it, but at least you'll be able to get the data."

"Our third level is: If we catch this device inside, we're going to ask you to take it out."

Dulaney says the key to the success of the Cafeteria Plan lies at level two. "Level two represents the support level of reasonableness. If you provide that to your users they're not liable to do the opposite. The moment you tell them there's only one choice, they're going to do the opposite. So you have to be reasonable."

No matter what type of support your organization ultimately decides to provide, it's worth your time to keep up with new devices, manufacturers, and form factors. Not only will it help you anticipate new opportunities for applying technologies in your organization, it will help you devise a support strategy you—and your users—can live with.



   
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