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How to expand your UC and collaboration mobile capabilities

Unified communications and collaboration can have mobile capabilities, but need a variety of technologies to manage them.

Editor's note: In part five of our series on assessing mobile collaboration for the enterprise, we look at unified communications and collaboration. UC expert Philip Clarke discusses how unified communications and collaboration has shifted to expand mobile capabilities.

Mobile devices differ from more traditional desktop or laptop computers in three major ways.  These differences -- operating system, architecture and size -- can impact how end users interact with mobile devices.

1. Operating system: Mobile devices run mobile operating systems, including the popular Apple iOS (supported in more than 96% of companies), BlackBerry OS (77%) and Android (70%). These operating systems don't possess the complex command or multitasking capabilities of Windows or Mac OS on traditional desktop and laptop computers.

2. Architecture: Largely based on a comparatively slow system-on-a-chip design, mobile devices -- both tablets and smartphones -- are much slower, but are also much less battery-hungry than their Intel-based x86 and modular system brethren.

3. Size: Mobile devices are, well, mobile. The largest tablets have screens around 10" and are still a single slab, while laptops have a range of screen sizes in addition to much more hefty component housings from 13" to 17". Much smaller and lighter, smartphones are generally 4" to 5" measured diagonally.

Defining mobile UCC features: A fast-moving management target

The definition of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) shifts over time to accommodate marketing-speak, but it also expands to include new features like social media. Mobile UCC can be many things, and in its most basic form, it can be extending a call-forwarding mechanism or existing voice or Voice over Internet Protocol capabilities to a mobile device. This includes features like call forwarding from a desktop phone and access to a unified voicemail inbox or a unified contact list.

More advanced UC mobile capabilities include video, voice and Web conferencing, and sometimes screen-sharing features. Given the constraints of a smartphone screen, anything beyond voice conferencing is often the domain of a tablet only. Integration into a company's CRM system, either via an app or virtual desktop interface, enables employees to interact with customer records, but usually provides a less-than-ideal user experience. A central repository like SharePoint often provides document sharing, distribution, storage and other capabilities.

Organizations can expand on UC's mobile capabilities using the following technology options:

  • Mobile device management (MDM): In order to ensure a device belongs in the enterprise, MDM can query a device to determine the user behind it, either via an on-device agent or as part of a network-based solution. In addition to providing role-based security, MDM can provide UC-related policy, including what documents, video or voice systems a device (and the employee) is allowed to access. Specifically, many of today's offerings have secure workspaces that integrate with company systems via apps or cloud-based platforms to access documents and information needed to complete tasks. Similarly, a mobile application management (MAM) platform can provide worker access to the applications they need based on their job requirements.
  • Consumer-oriented apps: Many of today's top enterprise apps started out with consumer-focused origins, but have added a variety of features that have not only met, but exceeded, their enterprise counterparts. Top document collaboration products provide enterprise-class integration, security, role-based access and context-based access (time, network, location-aware).
  • Cloud management: Leveraging cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms through a managed service provider (MSP), organizations can outsource new mobile and UC functionality to service providers that specialize in providing this type of capability. In addition, "single pane of glass" or all-encompassing management and reporting tools that ease the administration of all UC components, including mobility, are increasingly common.
  • Cloud infrastructure: Ranging from IP telephony to Web conferencing, more companies are looking to outsource their UC infrastructure, which reflects confidence that SaaS provides reliability at least on par with on-premises equipment. Companies are pretty strongly invested in on-premises IPT, however, with 75% having no plans for cloud-based voice services. Still, according to Nemertes Research, 65% of companies are already using cloud-based Web conferencing, and another 17% are using SaaS for IM and presence, with another 20% evaluating or planning to deploy cloud-based IM and presence.

Supporting mobile UC requires a variety of options and wide IT cooperation

Due to the complexity of systems and the difficulty of shifting from expensive purpose-built or appliance-specific on-premises management tools, even vendors that want to sell UC as a homogenous system are increasingly offering SaaS tools with the same or similar capability. Vendors are doing this not only to attract the business of cost-conscious small- and medium-sized organizations, but also to keep larger enterprises that are looking to get rid of expensive, outdated equipment. The promise of secure, scalable, reliable and outsourced cloud is a strong one. Just over 25% of companies report that the importance of a vendor's cloud roadmap in their UC buying decision is "vital," with another 30% rating it "important" or "very important."

With more than 60% of companies now supporting bring your own device (BYOD), and Apple's iOS being the most widely used mobile operating system (adopted in 96% of companies), enterprises need to evaluate functionality at a pace as fast as in the consumer market to satisfy the requirements of their workers, and to put the right security and compliance procedures in place. UCC represents one of the best places to start trying to keep pace, as the use cases and apps that employees are using are more often than not a mix of enterprise and personal.

UCC is an expansive area, and mobile and desktop consumer-focused offerings abound, including Skype and Google Hangouts for voice; Google Latitude and Facebook for presence and instant messaging (IM); FaceTime, Qik and Skype for video conferencing; and GoToMeeting for Web and audio conferencing,  and much more. Interestingly, many of these companies began marketing to consumers alone, but found that consumers not only bring apps into the workplace, they often prefer them to enterprise apps.

In order to support all of these requirements, IT professionals should look to define, control and support BYOD and consumer-oriented devices through an MDM service. Mobility is changing rapidly and requires MDM, and perhaps MAM -- if you do in-house app development or use a large set of centrally licensed apps. IT professionals would do well to provide a better UC and collaboration framework by soliciting input from social, unified communications, security, mobility, software development and network architecture teams, as well as non-IT employees to provide a comprehensive and contemporary plan. This will help set the requirements for modifications or an entirely new UC platform, with respect to the very closely related subjects of mobility and apps.

Read part six of our series on mobile collaboration for a list of essential questions to ask when preparing for mobile UC.

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