Many of the headaches associated with implementing unified communications (UC) stem from back-end integration and interoperability problems, but even the most elegantly integrated UC architecture is worthless if the front-end user experience is poor. As enterprises adopt mobility and bring your own device initiatives, they must pay more attention to the front end, and UC pros must ensure that users who juggle communications and collaboration tools across multiple devices have a unified user experience.
"You've got people who have so many different devices right now that communications is kind of bottlenecking," said Jay Long, senior vice president of Health Group Telecommunications, the IT division within Vantage Healthcare Network, a private system of healthcare providers based in Meadville, Pa. "Not only do you have the challenge of making the technology work, but it's an environmental change."
Although Long has rejected a bring your own device initiative at Vantage for security and compliance reasons, gadget-happy doctors are regularly trying to replace their corporate-issued devices with the latest and greatest smartphones and tablets. The constant influx and turnover of devices has made it difficult to keep up support for UC across every device and endpoint, never mind a seamless user experience between them.
You've got people who have so many different devices right now that communications is kind of bottlenecking.
Senior Vice President of Health Group Telecommunications, Vantage Healthcare Network
"A lot of times, I feel like it's the tail wagging the dog," Long said.
Maintaining an intuitive and consistent user experience is an ongoing struggle for enterprises with multivendor UC environments, according to Art Schoeller, principal analyst at Forrester Research. But that challenge typically manifests when enterprises try to integrate UC tools from multiple vendors on the back end, such as an Avaya voice system with a Microsoft messaging platform, he said.
Mobility and bring your own device initiatives will surely amplify that problem. Nearly two-thirds (72%) of IT organizations reported that they support bring your own device initiatives, according to a recent survey by Aberdeen Group. Of that group, 46% said they support any device, whereas 26% said they only support devices from an approved company list.
Yet it's unclear to what degree enterprises will struggle to unify the user experience for a single UC tool across multiple devices because of enterprises' light appetite for mobile UC right now, Schoeller said.
"Architecturally, all of the vendors are certainly looking at making sure all of these streams of communications are available across all of the devices," he said. "It's a bit of a journey [for] how the user experience is going to evolve."
Improve user experience, but not at expense of compliance
Long is in the process of replacing Vantage's legacy communications infrastructure with Avaya's SIP-based Aura architecture in conjunction with a health information exchange (HIE) project. The deployment includes a proof of concept with Avaya's Flare Experience—software designed to provide a unified user experience with UC tools across any device—on Vantage desktops and mobile devices.
Long is unsure at this point, however, whether he will choose Flare for the front end or stick with his legacy Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) clients that users are already comfortable with. He must also weigh the UC user experience against HIPAA compliance regulations.
"If I can make things as user friendly as possible, it's going to make life easier," he said. "But you have to be very careful with security [practices]. Yes, we can collaborate, but if I'm collaborating at Eaton Park while I'm having lunch, I have to be very careful that I'm not sharing Mrs. Jones' mastectomy information with the guy next to me."
Vendors aim to improve UC user experience in bring your own device world
Although adoption of mobile UC applications has been sluggish, UC vendors are jumping on enterprise mobility and bring your own device initiatives with a renewed focus on the creating a unified user experience across multiple endpoints.
"We're disjointed because each device and each capability ... is separate," said Nancy Maluso, vice president of UC at Avaya, during a recent webcast announcing updates to its one-X Mobile client. "How do you effectively bring in your users, who are in mobile world, into the enterprise?"
Avaya announced one-X support for new devices, including the Android-based Samsung Galaxy II smartphone, Apple iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry touchscreen devices, and devices running Mac, Windows and Symbian operating systems. Avaya also released a new SIP client for the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone to support fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) for calling over Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
This broader support translates into a consolidated and consistent user experience with unified call logs, contact lists and presence information, no matter the device or platform, Maluso said. The one-X Mobile client federates with Microsoft Lync today, and Sametime federation is expected later this year, she said.
The client is designed to work with corporate-issued and personal devices, but support on personal devices is limited to call routing and consolidated contact lists.
Plantronics recently announced a new portfolio of headsets and base cradles that can improve the UC user experience for employees juggling multiple corporate-issued devices or diving into bring your own device initiatives.
The Savi 700 series is a suite of bases that employ a single wireless headset that can be used for a user's desk phone, softphone client and corporate-issued or personal mobile phone. The base is small enough for users to bring wherever they work, whether that's a hotel room or temporary office, according to Amy Huson, director of enterprise marketing at Plantronics.
The headset "talks" to the phone via Bluetooth, but the headset "talks" to the base via a different standard, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), which improves call quality and extends the coverage area from 30 feet to 350 feet, Huson said.
The Savi 700 also federates with Microsoft Lync and Skype presence applications, feeding those platforms information about whether the user is on the phone or available to update presence accordingly, she said.
"It doesn't matter who's reaching you which way.... You can answer the phone by grabbing the headset and putting it on," Huson said. "People want to communicate. They don't want to futz with their devices."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.