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Breaking free of the desktop

By Alan Pelz-Sharpe

One of the most powerful trends Ovum has watched emerge over the past 18 months has been the move to handheld technologies. From Palms and BlackBerries to the iPod. Almost everyone who works in a well paid white-collar job now has access to a laptop and a cellphone. In Europe and Asia in particular, cellphones are rapidly becoming the device of choice, with desktops becoming redundant. Desktops and even laptops are being used less and less often, with the phone becoming the first point (and in many cases the only point) of contact for data and text communications.

Yet the KM vendor community has been slow to respond to this changing dynamic. Most are still tied hand and foot to the desktop paradigm, and few offer more than the most basic capabilities when away from the core enterprise network. Vendors and analysts like to think that they shape the future of the IT community, but we do not. Users shape it by accepting and rejecting offerings. The role of a good analyst is to notice emerging trends and dynamics, not invent them. The trend that has already emerged--but much of the KM technology world appears to have missed--is that of voice and handheld devices. Almost imperceptively we have reached a point where voice-activated menus have become ubiquitous, and handheld data devices ranging from clever (if not smart) phones through to iPaqs have come to the masses.

Yet how is all that information traffic being managed, how is it being tracked and analyzed? At present it is not; it just gets delivered. The move of information management into the infrastructure by IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, in many cases by the use of Web services, opens many opportunities for software vendors. But those still enamored with the Windows desktop may be missing the big opportunity that is already out there in the marketplace.

Search vendors in particular still seem to be fixated on the desktop. We have seen big moves by Microsoft and Google, and neat and impressive product deliveries from smaller vendors such as FAST and Blinkx over the past year. And a big breakthrough will come from the vendor that delivers that type of functionality to the mobile and wireless world, scaled down to functional and value-focused basics, enhancing user experience for handheld devices.

Could it be that firms like RIM (Research In Motion) that have brought handheld devices to the enterprise could be the vanguard, but that software developers that understand the mobile environment, such as OpenWave or the mountain of J2ME application developers, could be the real winners? The communications and IT sectors are converging, not because they want to, but because their customer bases are converging them regardless. Such a clash will bring with it a plethora of opportunities.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is VP of software and services, North America, at Ovum, e-mail aps@ovum.com.

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