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AvantGo broadens corporate device push

The company plans to announce on Monday the shipment of AvantGo Mobile Sales, its first packaged software for helping corporate customers bring business functions to handhelds.

After building a business helping individual companies bring their desktop software to handheld devices, AvantGo is trying to offer a more generic approach.

On Monday, the company plans to announce it has started shipping AvantGo Mobile Sales, the company's first packaged software aimed at helping corporate customers bring business functions to handheld devices. Until now, AvantGo has sold only a single server program and worked with each company to tailor the program for their particular needs.

Felix Lin, AvantGo's vice chairman, told CNET that the idea to offer packaged software came after seeing the similarities in much of the work AvantGo's corporate customers were doing.

"We've captured the elements that are common to all of them," Lin said. "It's not to say they won't customize it further."

The program allows handhelds to enter and update information from a number of sales force automation programs, including software from Onyx, Oracle and Siebel Systems. The AvantGo package supports Research In Motion's BlackBerry e-mail pagers as well as handheld computers using the Palm or Microsoft Pocket PC operating systems. The Mobile Sales software will cost $65,000 for 100 users and requires AvantGo's server software, which starts at $30,000.

AvantGo is best known for its consumer program that lets people download news and other information to their handheld computer, but most of the company's revenue comes from its business customers.

AvantGo is one of a number of companies looking to help businesses bring key desktop programs to handheld computers. Palm had hoped to buy Extended Systems, one such company. After that deal fell apart, Palm announced it would sell Extended Systems' software, and it struck a deal with accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers to help sell to large businesses.

"I think it is something you will see more of," said Mike McGuire, an analyst at Gartner G2, a unit of market researcher Gartner.

Many sales force automation companies already have their own plans to offer software access via handhelds. Lin said the advantage of AvantGo's approach is that it can connect to more than one program, augmenting sales data with, say, the customer's inventory information from another program.

AvantGo plans eventually to offer programs for other business tasks, although the company has not said which types of software it will offer next. Lin mentioned supply-chain management, logistics and transportation as logical candidates.

"You can expect the types of applications we will do are those that are intrinsically mobile," Lin said.

But while the idea of using handhelds to do core business tasks is a hot topic these days, companies appear to be taking their time before moving their systems to such gadgets, said Charul Vyas, an analyst at IDC. Among the hurdles is the slow speed of today's wireless networks.

"I think you are slowly beginning to see adoption," Vyas said. "I don't think its there yet in terms of massive deployments, but I think it is something that is on the minds of IT managers."