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Medtronic Taps Treo

Medical technology leader Medtronic said today it has standardized its company-wide deployment of mobile devices on the Treo 650, marking a significant customer win for Palm Inc. and another milestone in the rollout of mobile applications to employees in the field.

Medtronic now has more than 2,000 employees, mostly executives, salespeople, and technicians, using the Treo 650 equipped with Good Technology Inc. 's GoodLink system for mobile email and calendaring. The Treos also run Documents To Go, from DataViz, plus two custom applications developed in-house by Medtronic: a salesforce automation tool called "SalesWire," and "Field Inventory," an inventory-management and customer-service program. The combination of out-of-the-box software and custom tools, according to Jim Adams, Medtronic's program manager for cardiac rhythm disease-management sales technology, has resulted in bottom-line gains for the company.

"Now, I can run monthly reports based on the number of sales representatives who wirelessly connect, sync, make transactions, and more," Adams said in a statement. "New monitoring and reporting capabilities all boil down to savings."

The Medtronic win is an intriguing marker in the developing rivalry between Treos and BlackBerries in the enterprise mobile-device market. While BlackBerry maker BlackBerry has long dominated enterprise sales with its elegant and effective mobile email solution, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company faces ongoing legal challenges regarding its push email technology -- most recently a patent-infringement lawsuit filed in federal district court by Visto Corp. -- and increasing hesitation from corporate customers to commit to what is still a largely proprietary system. (See Filling Out the Wireless Application.)

Palm, meanwhile, has ramped up its enterprise sales force and is touting its "open-platform" as a more congenial solution for companies wishing to develop and deploy mobile applications beyond email. (See Palm Pushes Deeper Into Enterprise.)

"Mobile email is something you must do well, but that's just table stakes now," says Tara Griffin, Palm's vice president of enterprise markets. "The differentiator for Treo is that beyond email we see these applications that offer so much more savings in terms of ROI and higher productivity, that are not available on other systems."

RIM, of course, would beg to differ with that assessment -- the company has rolled out a version of BlackBerry, called BlackBerry Connect, that runs on multiple operating systems, and the company has touted the number of third-party applications that will run on BlackBerry. (See RIM's Unified Theory.)

Medtronic, however, did not even examine other devices before testing and deploying the Treos, according to Adams.

"Medtronic chose Palm over other alternatives because we want to arm our sales force with more than just email and personal information management," notes Medtronic spokesperson Chuck Grothaus. "They need applications that provide them with data. They want to be able to beam applications to customers. They want to be able to show video on the devices. The Treo excels in all of these areas."

Created by Medtronic developers, the custom Field Inventory app lets mobile users search entire sales districts for products; view inventory; record sales; create purchase orders; transfer products from one location to another; request product-delivery dates; and send questions to the company's internal customer service department. Equipped with a database known as the "Pacing Encyclopedia," which contains specs on Medtronic equipment as well as equipment from rival manufacturers, the Treos also serve as a mobile reference tool.

The result: Response rates to customer inquiries have increased by 30 to 40 percent, and Medtronic has been able to increase its worldwide salesforce by several hundred people while reducing internal sales service calls by 80 percent.

The Medtronic deployment, however, also demonstrates how far mobile-messaging device makers have to go in penetrating large enterprises: While Medtronic has been a Palm customer for eight years, the 2,000-plus Treo users represent less than 7 percent of Medtronic's 34,000 employees.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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