How to evaluate mobile UC capabilities and mobile integration limits

As employees bring their mobile devices to the enterprise, IT architects must evaluate the capabilities and mobile integration limits of UC plans.

The computing environment within the enterprise is changing: 92% of companies implement bring your own device (BYOD) policies, allowing employees to use personal smartphones to connect to corporate applications. By the end of 2014, on average, one-fifth of employees will use a tablet as their primary computing device. With the rapid addition of mobile devices comes a change in patterns for their use: Employees demand more than just...

access to email, calendar and contacts — they want to have all the same applications on their mobile device that they enjoy on their desktop, including UC. As a result, IT architects are scrambling to incorporate tablets and smartphones into their UC plans.

According to the Nemertes Research 2013-14 Enterprise Technology Benchmark, 24% of IP telephony clients will be mobile endpoints by the end of this year. For those responsible for delivering UC to these devices, this requires picking a solution that not only best fits the user's need but also integrates well with existing (and planned) infrastructure.

Delivering an integrated UC experience on mobile devices is more difficult than on a desktop or laptop computer. On the desktop, most UC vendors deliver plug-ins for other applications, or support application program interfaces that enable third-party plug-ins for their own desktop apps. Among these are connectors for Microsoft Outlook; Avaya and Cisco telephony integration with Microsoft Lync or IBM Sametime; Google Apps federation with UC platforms; and Vidyo's video-conferencing integration with Lync.

In the mobile world it's a different story, where mobile app vendors rarely allow third-party plug-ins. So enterprise planners are faced with a choice: They can provision a multitude of different applications for each UC feature (telephony, video, instant messaging and so on), provision a single client that can interface with multiple back-end platforms, or consolidate back-end platforms through a single vendor.

The first choice is easy for IT, but difficult for end users. A UC mobility program will not succeed if it requires employees to click on a different app for each service, with no integration between them. If that's the path chosen, workers will simply gravitate to consumer services like Skype that already integrate voice, messaging and video.

The second approach, which vendors like AudioCodes, ShoreTel and Varaha offer, is more user-friendly, but the back-end solutions that they support are often limited. This means an integrated client may not support all existing UC platforms.

The third choice offers the most potential for a seamless user experience, but also holds the biggest potential for IT upheaval. Many companies run a variety of UC platforms today -- for example, Cisco or Avaya for voice, Polycom for video and Microsoft Lync for IM/presence -- coupled with a hosted Web-conferencing solution from a service provider. In this scenario, IT leaders look at their options for supporting mobile users and determine that the best solution is convergence around a single platform that eliminates the need to run multiple applications or delve into the messy world of system integration. With the consolidation approach, companies can often reduce operating costs, complexity and licensing requirements, though putting all the IT eggs in one basket carries with it its own set of risks, with the enterprise dependent on the chosen vendor's ability to deliver against short- and long-term needs.

Those responsible for UC should pay careful attention to the needs of their increasingly mobile workforce. They need to meet with current vendors to assess the latter's ability to not only provide mobile apps, but also integrate services for mobile access. They should also evaluate the feasibility of continuing to operate a mixed-vendor architecture, given mobile integration limitations.

This was first published in January 2014

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