Virtually every article you read about unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) emphasizes the importance of mobility

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. While I couldn't agree more, what the UC&C vendors fail to mention is that the take rate on the mobility solutions they offer is embarrassingly low. It's difficult to find solid market research to back this up because the vendors have no mechanism in their mobile products to collect usage analytics (something that is key to every "successful" mobile application), so they routinely tout meaningless statistics like the number of downloads. So the one thing in common among Cisco Jabber, Avaya oneX, Lync Mobile, Siemens OpenScape Mobile, ShoreTel Mobility, and all of the others, is that almost no one is using them.

The reason I can say this with such confidence is that along with my end user consulting assignments (where mobile UC&C clients never come up), every year I conduct the deep dive mobility workshop at Enterprise Connect, a highly attended UC&C conference.

Every year I ask the same audience polling question: "Are any of your companies using mobile UC&C clients?" I make sure to cull out the attendees who work for UC&C vendors. In an audience of around 200 this year, two hands went up. One was actually a pretty interesting application involving the help desk and the other was just a few guys in the IT department who were playing around with it. What we find consistently is that the only mobility features users engage in is find-me / follow-me or simultaneous ring features where the PBX automatically forwards calls to the user's desk phone to their mobile number. These simple use cases narrowly define "mobile UC&C" as "call forwarding."

Why current mobile UC&C products aren't taking off

Interestingly, mobile customers are actually using UC&C; they're just not buying what the mobile UC&C vendors are offering. Objectively, much of what we identify as mobile UC&C is available natively on virtually any smartphone. The contacts capability in the smartphone has become everyone's primary address book, and from the contact's entry I can make a phone call, generate a text or email, and in a growing number of cases, make a video call. Meeting requests are added to the smartphone's calendar with a single click, and the user gets a notification x-minutes before the meeting and can join with a single click. With services like Skype, Facebook and Google+ we can get presence status, document sharing, collaboration tools and most other capabilities you'd find in a UC&C platform.

More on mobile UC&C

How to implement a mobile UC solution

Mobile UC may mature with BYOD best practices

SIP trunking services reduce mobility costs

The problem with current mobile UC&C vendor products is that they try to emulate smartphone capabilities that users already have, are familiar with, and frankly work better than what the UC&C vendors are offering. The trouble with current smartphone platforms is that they only allow access to a specific set of capabilities; that list is more restrictive in iOS than in Android. However, in neither case can an application developer get access to core capabilities like the native dialer. The result is that UC&C vendors have to develop an app that includes a dialer (and other functions), and the user has to open that app to access the enterprise UC&C function. So the users have one way to use their phone and all of its swell features to make personal calls, and a completely different procedure to make business calls. Users like the way their smartphones work, and this UC&C app just isn't worth the trouble.

Tablets could make mobile UC&C meaningful

The one development in the mobile space that could possibly benefit the UC&C vendor is the tablet. Tablets lack a native cell phone capability, so any real-time communications capability is going to involve an app that communicates over a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular data service. If the UC&C vendors are going to move their mobile capabilities beyond the "RFP check-off" stage, they're going to have to knuckle down and develop something meaningful. Otherwise, mobile UC&C will happen, and the enterprise UC&C vendors won't be coming along for the ride.

This was first published in June 2013

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