BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
One of the key benefits to be gained from unified communications is the ability to extend enhanced communications capabilities to mobile users. Unfortunately, mobile unified communications (UC) sits at the convergence of two complex topics: mobility and unified communications.
This is the first part of a three-part series in which we will explore the applications, technology and benefits of mobile UC.
Defining the benefits of mobile unified communications (UC)
Many IT professionals still confuse unified communications (UC) with the earlier definition of "unified messaging," but the vision of UC has progressed far beyond that. UC now encompasses the idea of integrating all enterprise communications onto a common dashboard that would allow users to view all of their contacts and identify their presence status. That presence status would include in/out of office, in a meeting, at a remote site, on vacation, and it would specify the types of communications that could be accepted (voice, video conference, email, text message, etc.).
Users' presence would be updated automatically from their calendars, and a rules-based engine would allow them to define different levels of "availability" for different contacts (boss, customer, internal, family, etc.). So the idea of "unified" now relates to both incoming and outgoing communications, in all media, as well as the integration of applications and their interfaces -- all in a single platform.
Along with enhanced user features, UC also encompasses the idea of communications-enabled business processes where these rich communications functions could be integrated to streamline routine business tasks. So UC today is about the ability to integrate all of the organization's human and IT resources in a single platform to support business goals.
Benefits of mobile UC
With unified communications, an organization can provide an infrastructure that supports a new way of doing business that is more efficient, more responsive, and ultimately more productive. The core benefits of mobile UC are:
- Presence: This provides the ability to determine in real time which resources are available for which types of communications, while giving individual users the ability to manage and control their own availability.
- Accessibility: With mobility, UC can make all of the organization's human and information resources available for appropriate contacts, regardless of whether people are at their desks, down the hall, or on another continent.
- Productivity: For individual users, UC allows better management of time and communications. At a macro level, better integrated and more functional communications can allow organizations to become more flexible, agile and responsive.
- Security and control: Correctly implemented, mobile UC also gives organizations the ability to control their communications access by ensuring that all incoming calls can be routed through a business number. Furthermore, those rich communications capabilities can be extended to remote users without jeopardizing the security of sensitive corporate information.
All of this may sound a bit esoteric, so let's look at an example. Say you're a salesperson on the road and receive an email on your mobile device from one of your top prospects. You recognize that in order to close the deal you'll have to involve engineers from two separate groups and get a special engineering approval from your boss. With the presence-enabled directory, you can see which engineers in each of the groups are available, link them in a conference call, and reply to the customer's email with a voice call you add to the conference. While the engineers discuss the fix with your prospect, you can email or text message your boss for the approval.
If we add mobile communications-enabled business processes, the range of productivity-enhancing applications goes up exponentially. Service dispatch, or the ability to locate service personnel by GPS-based geo-location and then assign the nearest service van to a service call, is a good starting point. With an application programming interface (API), however, you could also provide driving directions from where they are to where they need to be and possibly send them by the least-congested route. Further, an inventory system could track which parts are in each van and the technician's product certifications, so you dispatch only those vans with the necessary parts and the technicians with the requisite training.
Unified communications is taking root in enterprises today, particularly in areas where the benefits are most obvious. Those include functions like healthcare, financial services, call centers, and other communications-intensive activities. However, what is driving UC into the mobility space is the recognition that more functional integrated communications are important for any customer-facing or process-driven personnel. As business organizations become more fluid and mobile, we need to extend that UC infrastructure with its presence to those key personnel, wherever they are located.
In our next section, we will look at the implementation of fixed mobile convergence and mobile UC solutions.
About the author
Michael Finneran is an independent consultant and industry analyst who specializes in wireless technologies, mobile unified communications, and fixed-mobile convergence. With more than 30 years in the networking field and a broad range of experience, Finneran is a widely recognized expert in the field. He has recently published his first book, entitled Voice Over Wireless LANs -- The Complete Guide (Elsevier, 2008). His expertise spans the full range of wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, 3G/4G Cellular, WiMAX and RFID.