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How to integrate mobile UC products into your infrastructure

Integrating mobile UC products hinges on how well you understand your infrastructure requirements.

Editor's note: In part seven of our series on assessing mobile collaboration for the enterprise, we look at integrating mobile UC products. Nemertes Research analyst Philip Clarke discusses a five-step process to make mobile UC integration more effective.

The advances of mobility continue to have a profound effect on everything from basic network architecture to unified communications and collaboration, or UCC, services. With the surge of mobile devices, mobility is redefining its place within the enterprise, highlighted by trends including tablets replacing laptops and PCs as primary compute platforms. Accordingly, products that support the needs of virtually any type of organization are readily available. Selecting the right set of devices and applications can be a challenge for companies, however. For example, the emergence of Windows 8 has many companies reviewing their long-term device purchasing strategies. The sheer number of clever, radically cheap and genre-busting applications and the plethora of cloud service offerings tailored to the needs of companies of all sizes make product and service selection an involved process.

Effectively integrating mobile UC products

The more up-front research you and your organization do, the less likely you are to end up mired in project slowdowns and regrets. Most functionality is available from a single vendor, but integrating apps that are already fundamental to many employees' workdays is usually problematic. Defining role-based requirements can be greatly expedited by following the five-step process that Nemertes Research recommends to analyze your systems, needs and emerging requirements.

  1. Evaluate where you are today: What systems are in place? Where is your equipment in terms of depreciation? What is most in need of replacement in the short term? How much of what you have could remain within the framework of your requirements, and how much would have to go? Is an Opex-based model preferred to a Capex-based model in your enterprise? Over what time frame would you have to show a return on investment, or ROI, or lowered total cost of ownership, or TCO, for your UC system --three, five or 10 years?
  2. Develop short- and long-term requirements: What are users asking for that you aren't providing? How are work-locations changing? Do you have more but smaller branches, or fewer but larger ones? Is telecommuting increasing? How mobile is your workforce? How much do they use enterprise UC versus non-enterprise UC now? How much of this is due to availability and how much is preference? How much bring your own device, or BYOD, and guest access do you need to support? What types of devices does your enterprise support, and in what ratios? What types of apps are you running, developing and planning for? What combination of native, remotely accessed or HTML5 apps are you aiming for? What compliance and security requirements affect your technology decision making? What UC technology is in place, and to what extent does it have to integrate with these apps in terms of management and security?
  3. Analyze the gaps: Can you support short- and long-term requirements? Do you prefer a managed service? Would you opt to have someone manage the whole thing or just certain pieces? Depending on your answer, where does your organization need to invest?
  4. Evaluate vendor roadmaps: What are vendors delivering that you haven't addressed internally? Which vendors' go-to-market and overall strategies most closely align with your requirements? Which vendors "get it," with respect to your requirements? How are your current vendors adapting to trends, i.e., integrating with apps that are popular among your user base? Which vendors have a sustainable strategy, pricing or otherwise?
  5. Develop the roadmap: A roadmap is not a project plan, but a high-level list of milestones that you need to reach to transform your collaboration environment.

Working the mobile UC evaluation program

The evaluation phase is largely a process of determining and accounting for current UC and mobile device assets and interviewing senior management to see where they are in terms of preferences for different pricing models (Opex vs. Capex). You may find that management is only too happy to turn capital expenditures that end up being scrapped or resold at a significant loss into predictable, monthly operational expenses. Conversely, you may find them committed to a previous purchase and therefore fully leveraging the sunk costs and depreciated assets.

Setting your short- and long-term requirements helps you determine the type of UC offering that best fits your needs by making you carefully articulate those needs in a document. This is a complex process, made more so by the differing needs of mobile devices and applications. But these are the primary features driving growth, adoption and productivity with respect to collaboration and UC. Finding out how reliant you are on your existing UC system and how much you will be once an ideal offering is put in place is fundamental to any plan.

Fortunately, simplification is intrinsic to the way UC vendors design and sell their products -- which is to say, they are designed to integrate well with their other UC equipment, even if proprietary integration modules are required. But getting different semi-proprietary and proprietary protocols and features to work together within a UC framework can be challenging -- or outright impossible, so a single vendor service is implied in Nemertes Research recommendations. Beyond those functions that still require expensive and single-purpose appliances (session border controllers, some virtual private network  concentrators for remote access or virtual desktop infrastructure), Software as a Service (SaaS) options can aggregate otherwise complex management functions into a single, easy-to-understand view to ease the difficulty of managing on-premises. Cloud-based tools, consumer-priced apps with extensive functionality and even free tools offer strong UC capabilities. Consequently, piloting and trying multiple solution modules simultaneously does not have to be a capital-intensive exercise, and given the importance of supporting your workforce with excellent UC infrastructure, it's a veritable bargain.

Weighing on-premises vs. cloud management

A key consideration that would affect your decision to use SaaS instead of on-premises software is the reliability of your network and Internet connections. If connectivity to the site where your admin sits goes down, then he or she can't manage your service even if the rest of the sites on the WAN are still up. One potential workaround is using a smartphone or tablet with cellular data services, assuming the tool has an interface workable from a mobile device.

Of course, companies have additional concerns with using SaaS: The majority of enterprises, 58%, identify data security, confidentiality and privacy as the main limiting factors to SaaS adoption; twenty percent say loss of control and variability of cost and performance are the main problems, 8% point to a lack of trust in cloud service providers; and 4% say cost is limiting adoption. With respect to hosted UC delivery, however, 70% of IT executives say that cost is the top driver. These considerations need to be balanced with the advantages of outsourcing expertise that you may not have internally or may have to hire for. Overall, 75% of companies use managed, hosted or cloud services today, and 58% of companies report they expect an increased adoption.

Read part eight in our mobile collaboration series to learn the final factors in your mobile UC decision

Dig Deeper on Mobile Unified Communications