Mobility – it’s a hot topic in the communications industry. Every vendor has a story for it. What does it really mean though? What is “Mobility” other than being mobile? Is it a buddy, IM and presence client that installs on your mobile phone? Is it FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) that <for the most part> allows your mobile cellular call to roam onto a WiFi VoIP call? Is it a set of forward rules on your PBX that ring your mobile number? Is it all of these combined?
Then, how are these achieved in a manageable and economical manner for an enterprise? Quite often vendors achieve these functions via add-on hardware or software, often sourced from 3rd parties that have innovated in a niche area. Does this really provide a fit solution for the enterprise or achieve a checkbox for the supplier?
Then there is still Fix Mobile Convergence (FMC). I question the real value of FMC, especially when you must purchase and manage additional hardware & software. Because the real question is do the end users really care? Since the most likely users are people in roles like sales I can’t imagine a single sales guy that would tolerate dropping calls with a customer in trade for saving a few mobile minutes. Yet, there-in lies the key – the users goal: get connected, stay connected, no matter where I am. So how is this function provided in your solution?
In the mobile (let’s call them AppPhones) world there are dozens of Apps from vendors that allow users to sign-on to their companies “UC” system and see their colleagues availability, instant message them, etc. Many simply source 3rd party software to provide a mobile phone client (branded to the vendor of course). Then, many of these clients are “soft phones” – that allow the user to make a phone call over WiFi data or now even over cellular data connections – bypassing the cellular minutes and using their data plans.
The next addition to the mix is the wave of tablets used in business, lead by the iPAD and now found in droves when you attend a conference. It’s become the new convenient tool to carry, but it doesn’t replace the mobile phone. What matters is that this is also becoming a business communications tool and has to be considered in the mix of devices to support, from a vendor viewpoint and from a buyer viewpoint. Let’s not forget laptop computers – as there is still a significant case for using these in business and there are things you just cannot do as easily on a tablet.
If I add into this mix the need to consider fixed phones, regardless of weather they are IP connected phones or simply phone numbers on the public switched telephone network (which is effectively what your mobile cell phone is by the way) and the idea that users want to also do more that just chat and call from their devices – they also have a need to share content quite a lot these days and the demand for content sharing tools is significant. I can enter video into the picture as there is still demand for video, however I always question buyers on how many thousands of dollars they spent on video equipment in conference rooms that sit idle most the time. Nonetheless, it has its place.
So, the real story lies somewhere in the mix of all these things but the answer from a real innovators view should be to carefully and almost surgically bring these together as an integral part of an enterprise-class software platform. The reason for this is to address the needs of the end users in a economical and manageable way. It also has to do with creating a user experience that is easy to understand, is consistent regardless of the device you use (yes, whats happening is everyone has all three: laptop, tablet, mobile). In addition it is best to empower users to easy control things like phone calls – allow them to have a single business number, but to see and take calls to this number on any device (including alternate PSTN numbers) and then empower them to move these calls to any other device – on-the-fly. In addition users should be able to use a common software client, with common sign-on credentials, and see the same set of contacts, regardless of device – and they should be able to use the same clients to join content sharing meetings, voice or video calls, or simply engage in text chats. The video below provides a snapshot of how this looks when you have all three devices and engage on a dialog across devices.
The next part of the real story is to consider mobility as a need to enable end-users who are mobile to better engage in business while they are on the go. I say these are nomadic users – users that move around and must constantly seek the right choice to stay connected to their colleagues and must also find ways to bring colleagues in the office to their clients, in a virtual way. This is where the tools for these nomadic users must be able to easily engage colleagues and bring audio, video, and content to the customer location. Too often we think of sending the sales person in virtually, and there is an appropriate time for that, but most often it is a face-to-face relationship world but requires the subject matter experts to be brought online as needed. This is where the right mobility tools can really make the nomadic user on customer premises excel – addressing the customer questions and needs immediately.
Lastly, a real mobile solution wouldn’t be considered if it didn’t employ some form of security measures. These should be considered at a few different levels, first is sign-on credentials – these should be an integral part of the enterprise credentials & directory strategy, next are methods used to provide forms of encryption of the control information and perhaps also for the payload (content), lastly is an implementation approach that keeps enterprise content off the mobile devices to every extent possible without impeding the effectiveness of the end-user. Solutions should consider what occurs when a user has their access rights revoked. Does sign-on revocation eliminate access from all of their mobile devices (clients) simultaneously?
So, the real story is not in any one of these functions as a point solution but more as a careful assessment of your workforce and how you will enable them to be for effective. The following checklists can be utilized as a high-level tool for evaluation of your situation and how well you supplier can fulfill your needs. Again, the real story starts with your workforce and their needs within your business, not with technology components.
Business Use-case Assessments:
Workforce work-styles – what tools are really needed to be effective
Different needs by Role – categorize sales versus marketing, etc.
Location – where do people work and what is their connectivity
Shared Workspaces – how often do users engage F2F and what tools are needed
Operating Environments – what is the inventory of devices, is it changing
BYOD – are you willing to embrace a Bring Your Own Device strategy
Enterprise Fit – is the solution a natural fit for your enterprise architecture
Premises, Cloud – Can you choose to buy as a service, or operate in your DC
Device Support – do the client offerings match your use-case needs
Governance & Policy – do the controls align with how you want to govern usage
Agility – Does the solution scale, extend, and contort itself to adapt to your business
Security – is security embedded, does it align with your enterprise security approach
In this checklist I refer to “Shared Workspaces” and in a future post I’ll argue that solutions for share workspaces (you may call them meeting or conference rooms) should be considered as an integral part of the suppliers UC solution set and should NOT <at least solely) be a separate video conferencing add-on.