When enterprises direct their own mobile unified communications strategy, rather than letting users invent their own paths, companies experience a significant bump in benefits, according to a recent report by Nemertes Research.
"We found that results for those companies that adopted a formal planning process ... were measurably better than companies that allow things to happen," said Mike Jude, research analyst with Nemertes. He said companies saw roughly 15% improvements in key metrics such as increased sales or reduced time to task when they planned mobility strategy.
Despite the potential gains, about half of the companies that Nemertes surveyed chose to let the users rule the day when it came to deciding when, where and how to utilize mobile communications.
"What we saw is about 42% of the companies we talked to indicated that they had a mobility strategy," Jude said. "About 45% said they didn't, and 14% said they were developing one."
He said that among those companies with strategies, the more forward-thinking ones were looking beyond personal connectivity and into a more unified communications approach, particularly in making sure business processes work whether employees are at the office or in the field.
"It's very much this notion of technology that can return business value," Jude said.
"I can't imagine any professional not having [his] own device anymore, so you've got this pervasive environment where people are doing their own thing," he said. "The idea of adopting a strategy that ties it into a larger business process is somewhat difficult to do."
But the consequences of not executing a company-wide strategy can be costly, particularly as mobility moves from personal connectivity to what Jude termed business-application-centric: It's no longer about pushing one user's Microsoft Exchange into the field with him; rather, it's about building out whole line-of-business processes and, particularly, collaboration tools that mesh well throughout a company.
"If you've allowed all these salespeople to use their own calendars on different phones, the data isn't accessible across salespeople," Jude said. "Enterprises are finding that mobility is not an end in itself."
All this means relearning some habits that Jude said went out of vogue a few years ago.
"We found strategy has a really bad odor in enterprises," he said, recalling that many enterprise strategy sessions would start strong and achieve little. "But unified communications does require strategy."
For those seeking to develop a strategy and reap that 15% reward, Jude gave a few general guidelines:
- Determine your goals: What do you want to accomplish with your mobile unified communications strategy? Cost-cutting? Faster customer service times? If, as Jude said, mobility is not an end in itself, what is the end goal of your UC strategy?
- Estimate your return: Now that you know your goals, how do you define those goals? Do you want to cut customer service response times by 25%? Turn those goals into measurable yardsticks by which you gauge return on investment for every mobility dollar spent.
- Develop and gather metrics: Now that you have a clear idea of "why" and "what," it's time to make sure you will be able to tell "how well." Do you currently track customer response times? What systems can you put in place to make sure you are actually getting the return you planned on?
It's these tough metrics that have kept many enterprises from fully embracing unified communications strategy, Jude said.
"What we found is that the technology is not pervasive, but knowledge of it is," he said. "You'd have to be under a rock not to know these existed, but the challenge is making a business case for it."
Part of the problem, according to Jude, lies with the vendors themselves. They have not done as good a job as they need to do in outlining the business benefits of unified communications generally, and mobile unified communications in particular.
"We've gone from concept to consideration really quickly in this space," he said. "My personal observation is that it's catching vendors by surprise. They need to go after things like ROI better prepared than they've traditionally been."
There are signs that vendors are indeed starting to pay attention to those questions.
David Heit, a senior product manager with Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, said the type of conversation he has had with customers has changed recently. There are new faces and new expectations.
"What we're seeing is that if we're talking to an enterprise, [we're] seeing organizations with people who have a mobility mandate as their primary purpose within IT; so they look at mobility from all aspects," Heit said. "That used to be a single manager, and it has grown into whole teams."
Now those IT teams are experimenting with new ways to make their mobility strategy return dividends, he said. But these experiments are in the early stages.
"You have a lot of pilots, and some of them are kind of large, but they're still in that pilot phase," he said. "The strategists and planners are still figuring out exactly what their needs are."
In some cases, Heit said, companies have been able to cut out landlines completely in favor of dual-mode handhelds; while in others, a measurable return on investment was found through basic telephony features like single-number calling or routing mobile calls through an enterprise PBX, which is a boon for the compliance-laden financial industry.
Heit concluded: "We've been able to change the thinking around in how to justify the expense of this."