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Businesses get behind mobile-first development for UC

With enterprises increasingly dependent on mobile devices, UC vendors that tackle mobile-first development can differentiate themselves.

As more employees work remotely, a growing number of enterprises are asking for mobile-first development from their unified communications (UC) vendors. Unfortunately, vendors are unlikely to fulfill the growing need for a while due to the challenge of bringing UC to the small screens of mobile devices.

When evaluating products for this year's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, tech advisory company Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., placed extra weight on vendors that offered mobility-first options.

"It's becoming [important] and continues to increase in importance, as the number of people using their mobile devices for unified communications increases," said Gartner analyst Bern Elliot, who co-authored the report. "User expectations are continuing to escalate, and people are demanding more functionality and easier-to-use functionality in their mobile devices."

Only four of the 11 vendors listed in the UC Magic Quadrant had at least some mobile UC capabilities. They included Cisco, IBM, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and NEC Corp.

Still, only about 15% of employees primarily use mobile devices for work, according to Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, headquartered in Mokena, Ill. These employees, however, are generally comprised of employees who work in the field or executives.

Challenges with mobile-first development

One reason for increased interest in mobile-first UC features is the growing use of personal mobile devices at work (BYOD). But BYOD itself poses mobile-first problems to enterprises.

People are demanding more functionality and easier-to-use functionality in their mobile devices.
Bern Elliotanalyst at Gartner

One major challenge with the mobile-first approach is working UC into a company's network security policies, Lazar said. If an employee brings a personal phone to work, corporate apps and data have to be locked down so they can be removed when the employee leaves the company. But that's not always possible.

"If I am going to allow Skype for Business on somebody's personal iPhone, I have to do that outside of my secure container," Lazar said. "Therefore, any data in that app, I may not be able to manage effectively."

Startups producing innovative mobile-first technology

At this point, the PC's primary role in the workforce won't be threatened any time soon. Still, startups have been leading the way with the most adventurous mobile-first development. 

Some examples include San Francisco-based Switch Communications Inc., which has built a business phone system for Google Apps users, and Switzerland-based Wire that sells stereo group calling. Then, there's Talko Inc., a Boston-based company and product put forth by ex-Microsoft chief software architect, Ray Ozzie. Talko enables one-on-one and group calls that can be recorded, tagged and augmented with photos while the call is going on.

Committing to full mobile-first development may be a longshot for most UC vendors. For now, vendors should at least aim for mobile parity where a smartphone and tablet get the same UC features as a PC, Lazar said. This approach is likely to remain a competitive differentiator, as employees do more of their computing on smartphones and tablets.

"Mobile is still the big area that people look at when they're evaluating solutions," he said. "But I don't see any march toward people using mobile phones as their one and only communication device."

Next Steps

How to embrace a mobile-first approach to technology

Questions to ask a mobile UC vendor before you buy

Evaluating UC and mobile integration

Dig Deeper on Mobile Unified Communications Applications