March 19, 2012

Integrating UC Into Your Mobile Strategy

Mobile unified communications (UC) brings the considerable benefits of UC to the mobile arena, integrating such diverse services as telephony, presence, instant messaging and video conferencing to enhance mobile workers' productivity. By doing away with limitations on where and when an employee can use communication services, the mobile version of UC delivers improved business processes, potentially increasing revenue and customer satisfaction and reducing employee costs.

Enterprises moving toward mobile UC face two major challenges: how to access UC functions and how to deliver them.

First, Some Decisions to Make

Among the issues the IT organization must tackle before deploying mobile UC are:

  • Should IT develop its own applications? If so, for what operating systems (OSs)?
  • Should the applications be mobile-friendly versions of desktop applications, or should they be written specifically for the mobile device?
  • Should some level of standardization be adopted?
  • Can presence information be delivered for mobile devices?

The Four Mobility Profiles

IT will have to support at least four mobile user profiles - including users who migrate from one profile to another during the business day. In any case, whether they fit one or multiple profiles, workers should have a single identity that stays with them no matter what device they are using or where they are working.

  • Road warrior - works mostly out of the office seeing customers and suppliers
  • Teleworker - works at home part or full time
  • Campus roamer - works at an enterprise location but spends more time moving around the facility than sitting at a desk
  • Nomad - works outside the office but chiefly at a single location (e.g., client site, legal office, government facility)

Dealing with Multiple Operating Systems

The choice of OSs is actually more important than which mobile devices they run on. Typically enterprises will have to support at least five OSs: Google Android, Symbian, Apple iOS, Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile (and its derivatives). According to a November 2011 press release from research group Gartner, the mobile OS balance is changing. Android device sales increased sharply from 3Q10 to 3Q11, while Symbian device sales fell by more than half. Apple iOS sales decreased slightly and RIM sales by about a third. Microsoft is a distant fifth in the mobile OS market. Though the top five OSs will likely remain the top five for some time, their relative rankings are subject to change, which makes enterprise choices harder.

Collaboration Across Platforms

The optimal mobile UC vendor will not force its customers into a one-size-fits-all solution, but will integrate multiple communication types and collaboration platforms and services into a single solution compatible with existing products. This goal may be realized through either a single vendor's or multiple vendors' communication and collaboration tools, presented for use through integrated presence. Key components of any solution will include:

  • Contextual collaboration with integration of presence into many clients, devices and applications covering both office and mobile locations
  • Intelligent decision-making about routing, responses and triggered action that leverage presence and other contexts to maximize productivity
  • Support for open standards and interoperability with many environments, including Skype, Google, Microsoft, IBM and the XMPP community
  • Ubiquitous collaboration with secure, reliable B2B and B2C federation: the ability to communicate outside the enterprise network to other enterprises, customers and government

Presence and 911/E911 Integration

The UC solution should support IM and presence from within UC clients for common applications including Outlook, Lotus Notes and Google. No ubiquitous UC client exists today. And, though the vendor with the best presence integration will be a good bet, the client that becomes dominant will likely be the one selected most often by mobile users, not necessarily the one that best supports presence.

Finally, the enterprise must integrate UC with 911 and E911 services to ensure user safety. Some UC platforms offer this support natively, while others require third-party software; alternatively, some enterprises may prefer subscribing to a 911/E911 service.

Addressing 911/E911 comprehensively means multi-media support, including email, IM, websites and social media. The barrier to using these modern media, however, is the archaic (40-year-old) technology of the public safety answering points (PSAPs). Since most PSAPs cannot process non-voice 911 calls and E911 location information, the UC vendor might need to create text-to-speech phone calls to the PSAPs.

Another challenge is user profiles that change as users move from internal to external wireless networks, causing the PSAPs' location data to be out of date for minutes, hours or even longer. GPS data available to external mobile users typically cannot be relied on once those users enter buildings, especially in basements or in edifices made of stone. Providing satisfactory location information may require implementing E911 functionality on the enterprise's own LANs.

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