BA high-flyers get 'device of choice' PDA option

British Airways has revealed a flexible approach to letting staff use mobile devices of their choice to synchronise with their desktops and download email.

British Airways has revealed a flexible approach to letting staff use mobile devices of their choice to synchronise with their desktops and download email.

The airline has worked with Extended Systems to take messaging, PIM functionality such as calendaring and contacts, and in the future certain applications mobile.

Five hundred end user licences have been purchased from the US-based company, meaning – mainly – senior executives can use devices of their choice.

Tim LeBlond, BA manager technology services, said handsets – whether standalone PDAs or smart phones – based on Palm OS, Microsoft's Pocket PC and Symbian OS will be supported. Broken down by individual products, at last count that translates into about 50 to 60 specific devices, plus operator-branded versions of those.

"The end user must have one of these OSes and it must be one of our stipulated versions," he told silicon.com. "And they must go through a request approval process."

But otherwise the scheme is much more flexible than comparative corporate rollouts, allowing staff choice in type of device – a device which they are usually buying.

IDC research analyst Geoff Blaber said: "It sounds like BA are formalising the process whereby devices are coming into enterprises through the back door. The danger, though, is managing such a range of devices and OSes."

BA is using Extended's OneBridge mobile middleware after a previous pilot with that vendor's XTNDConnect Server software. It looked around at other options before the upgrade, but stuck with Extended for the new contract, the value of which hasn't been disclosed.

Nigel Doust, VP worldwide mobility at Extended Systems, said: "We will see more contracts like this. The big concern is often around support, but in this case intranet-based FAQ self-service keeps support costs low."

Upgrades to device software are done over the air, as is a remote 'kill till' to wipe lost or stolen devices – a selling point of other well-known mobile devices aimed at enterprise users.

BA currently has licences for up to 500 end users, together with an annual maintenance fee with Extended. The airline has found Sony Ericsson P900 and P910i smart phones to be popular with its executives.

Extended says it is strongest in user organisations with field service needs and counts energy company Eon, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Toyota among its customers.

Tony Hallett reported for Silicon.com.

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