Miguel Ferrer, global infrastructure director at Volvo Construction, is rolling out PC-to-PC voice telephony for 9,000 users in several countries over the next five weeks. By 2009, he plans to issue mobile devices offering voice and e-mail to 3,000 employees.
Speaking before his Gartner presentation next week, he said that IT managers beginning unified communication projects like this should start by profiling how mobile employees are in their daily jobs.
"Profiling helps identify the savings that can be made from removing redundant fixed equipment, like a desk phone, and can be used as part of a business case," he said.
Surveying employee mobility can help strengthen the IT department's return-on-investment case to the business. For example, replacing a fixed desk and mobile phone with one single communications device for a user who mostly travels can save businesses money.
Ferrer said that training users well in advance was key to gaining end-user buy-in. Volvo Construction set up dedicated training rooms and appointed non-IT personnel, who were more familiar with working routines, to lead local site training.
"First impressions on new technology last. If you promise convenience through one device but deliver poor voice quality, users will throw it back. This will jeopardise the long-term benefits to the business."
Mark Ferrar, director of infrastructure at NHS Connecting for Health, which advises NHS trusts on IT best practices, said the NHS had purchased more laptops than desktops in the past six months. One challenge in designing a mobile IT system was making sure users had access to the right type of wireless connection wherever users happen to be.
"Are you able to provide the user with the right type of connectivity the further they move from their desk location? The further you move from a fixed building the harder that challenge gets."
IT departments need to check whether their mobile phone operator has the range of coverage for their requirements given the likely number of locations an employee might travel to, he said.
Gartner analyst Steve Blood said that IT managers are increasingly being required to control mobile phone costs and roaming as mobile data applications become more prevalent.
"IT managers in large companies should begin negotiating with mobile operators to provide blanket coverage across five or six countries for a single reduced rate. The proposition for the carrier is that they get an entire chunk of mobile data business and the IT manager can better handle costs."
Gartner research predicts that unfied communication projects will become more commonplace as businesses seek to do more with their existing IT network to make savings. IT managers will increasingly become responsible for managing voice as software application, like e-mail, and will need to learn best practice approaches managing such projects.
What is unified communications?
Unified communications technology combines fixed and mobile voice, and data applications like e-mail on to a single device, such as a mobile phone or IP deskphone.
For a business, unified communications could improve employees' responsiveness to customer support calls, allowing them to reach one employee through a single device - a potential competitive advantage.
For IT managers, unified communications will mean learning new project management techniques, which combine managing voice systems and mobile applications, as well as hardware.