Enterprises are going mobile, and their unified communications (UC) solutions are no exception. A new class of enterprise tablet devices is mobilizing video telepresence and collaboration. Occupying a middle ground between smartphones and consumer tablets, a UC tablet delivers desktop video and other UC applications in a convenient form factor that users can carry around the corporate campus or around the world. Some users may prefer their iPads to a Cisco or Avaya UC tablet, so UC managers will need to strike a balance between technology strategy and corporate culture.
Enterprise tablets offer superior integration with UC applications
This new category of enterprise tablets shares many of the attributes of general purpose consumer tablets like Apple’s iPad and Motorola Xoom, including cameras and downloadable apps. Purpose-built UC tablets like Cisco’s Cius and the Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD), however, specifically target the enterprise UC market. Both devices are based on the Android operating system and can download third-party applications from Google’s Android Market.
The iPad’s popularity is based in part on apps downloaded from Apple's App Store. Cisco and Avaya's enterprise tablets are designed to connect users to corporate unified communications infrastructure. They can support voice communications, unlike an iPad.
“Both the Cius and ADVD are designed as a UC endpoint and meant to replace the desk phone, not an iPad,” said Brian Riggs, research director for enterprise software and communications at Current Analysis.
UC tablets come preloaded with video conferencing, presence, instant messaging and collaboration tools. The Cius will ship with front and video cameras and offer high-definition telepresence support. Avaya’s device will feature the Flare user interface to deliver text, video and audio chats. Unlike the iPad, early enterprise tablets can make phone calls. Both the Cius and ADVD also offer a desktop cradle that includes a physical handset, making them true desk phones when the user is in the office. The Cius dock also supports keyboard, mouse and monitor connections, enabling the tablet to serve as a thin client for an enterprise’s virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), affording organizations the opportunity to remove both a traditional desk phone and desktop PC from the user’s workspace.
Enterprise UC tablets as part of a mobile UC strategy
UC tablets will certainly play a role in an enterprise’s overall UC strategy. They offer integration with the organization’s UC platform, while most third-party device manufacturers are building consumer devices. Like with any other endpoint, UC managers will have to study the business need for the product and ultimately determine where it makes sense to deploy a UC tablet in lieu of a traditional desk phone.
Choosing an enterprise UC tablet will be a complex exercise. Many enterprises have introduced bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, so mobile UC strategies will often be a balance of employee-owned consumer devices and corporate-deployed UC tablets and wireless devices.
Many users bring consumer devices to work because they are trying to consolidate the number of devices they have to carry. They may balk at having to carry yet another device. UC vendors are responding to this trend by enabling their mobile UC software on consumer devices. In addition to its ADVD, Avaya has announced plans to support Flare on the iPad 2 and future Apple iOS devices.
“Users are not going to be bringing in a Cius from home,” said Avi Greengart, research director of consumer devices at Current Analysis. The Cius and ADVD will not benefit from a grassroots adoption like iPads have enjoyed so far. It will be up to UC managers to equip end users with the right devices.
To enable a truly mobile enterprise, UC managers will have to offer multiple options to demanding users. Forthcoming enterprise UC tablets will offer a deployment solution that allows users to communicate and collaborate wherever they go while allowing IT to manage these new devices on the same platforms they have used to manage other enterprise endpoints, such as PCs, desk phones and smartphones.