The appeal of unified communications (UC) has been the convergence of all business communication applications across the range of enterprise interfaces, including the PC, telephone, web, and mobile. However, a recent Forrester survey revealed that while European and North American enterprise telecom and technology decision-makers are interested in deploying business telephone features on employees' mobile devices - with 52% of decision-makers rating this as an important or very important capability, mobile UC adoption remains embryonic.
When asked about their plans for mobile UC adoption, these same decision-makers are in a holding pattern, with 44% indicating they are interested but have no plans to implement mobile UC, and another 22% not interested at all in mobile UC. Organisations are either taking a wait-and-see approach to how the mobile UC market will unfold, or simply lack vision on how mobility can impact their business. Either way, enterprises that don't empower remote and mobile workers with the same or comparable UC productivity afforded fixed on-campus employees will miss a key play at transforming the business.
What started with the integration of enterprise email into the mobile devices has developed into a request for access to enterprise applications. As employees continue to work on the go, demand will ultimately require full enterprise UC integration, including presence, instant messaging, conferencing - covering audio, video, and web - and support for Wi-Fi-based enterprise services. But while mobile carriers seem primarily focused on the consumer market and UC vendors continue to offer applications with limited mobile functionality, infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals have to prepare the business to harness the potential of mobile UC integration today. How? By following a simple two-step process.
Step 1: Start by segmenting your workforce to identify infrastructure needs
Enabling mobile UC is about empowering the workforce to achieve their job objectives, whether at large within the campus, at home, or on the go at a customer site, hotel, or airport. Knowing where people are can help identify what technologies are available and which would be the most appropriate to promote and meet their business productivity needs. I&O teams must take the necessary step of segmenting the remote and mobile workforce to understand the needs of where employees work and better define what technologies are needed to promote their productivity.
Step 2: Ready your infrastructure to support mobile UC deployments
I&O teams must consider the technological prerequisites for broader adoption of mobile UC, which are just now coming into play. Current third-generation (3G) and emerging fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband networks augment bandwidth and supply wider coverage for network operators across the globe. In addition, 802.11-based WLANs are faster and boast longer ranges. WLAN and Wi-Fi have become almost universal in the enterprise, and we're seeing a growth in public hotspots that help bridge connections in between. This ubiquitous mobility provides the "meta" network required for mobile UC to take flight.
In fact, as highlighted in Forrester's book Empowered, all customer-facing employees must be equipped with the ability to solve customer challenges. Many employees already use UC functionality on their personal mobile devices and are now asking for comparable functionality in their work environments to build business solutions to solve customer problems. To safeguard against that trend is not only futile, it's counterproductive. To better prepare for that mobilisation of UC functionality in the enterprise, I&O professionals will need to:
• Enable an all-IP wired and wireless network. An IP network forms the required platform for intelligent network services and networked applications. Whether wired or wireless, it enables the transition from single-use proprietary networks to a multiuse network that delivers broader application support and lowers overall costs of deployment, maintenance, and support.
• Implement an enterprise wireless security strategy. More enterprise data will be transmitted across the corporate network and stored on mobile devices outside the physical boundaries of the enterprise. I&O professionals should collaborate with their security and risk peers to secure mobile devices and their data as well as the communications to and from those devices to the corporate network.
• Promote standards-based, open interoperability. Look closely at the interoperability of different technology providers. Many claim to rely on standards but, in reality, use proprietary layers in addition to standard functions. Even if your organisation opts to standardise on specific mobile devices, it's worthwhile to steer clear of proprietary end-to-end mobility solutions. Why? Proprietary solutions limit flexibility and choice as device applications continue to evolve. Standards-based solutions, such as those leveraging natively multimedia session initiation protocol (SIP), promote interoperability across various enterprise UC solutions.
• Keep an eye on the cloud. Cloud computing has the opportunity to revolutionise the provisioning of mobile UC service. The days of prohibitive upfront UC hardware investments are coming to an end. This will have a particular impact on the growth of the mobile UC market, in which hardware costs and complex on-site deployment projects sit very uneasily.
Onica King is an analyst at Forrester Research where she serves global infrastructure and operations professionals. Her research and client engagements focus on telephony strategy - including enterprise mobility, unified communications and collaboration, and cost management - and sustainable IT business practices such as IT asset disposition, infrastructure and operations power management, and environmental management information technologies. Onica blogs at: http://blogs.forrester.com/onica_king
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This was first published in November 2010