Mobility has brought with it a host of challenges — managing devices, enabling security, supporting BYOD, etc. Add to the list facilitating collaboration and communications between co-workers, and also with customers and suppliers.
“Whether they are mobile – commuting from place to place – or working remotely, [workers] are in greater need of advanced [collaboration] tools and more convenient access to those tools,” said Elka Popova, North American Program Director, Unified Communications & Collaboration Information and Communication Technologies for Frost& Sullivan, citing instant messaging (IM) and presence as well as audio, Web and video conferencing among the go-to mobility tools. “As mobile devices become so much cheaper and more available and everybody has them, increasingly we are looking to provide access to these applications specifically on mobile devices.”
Most collaboration applications will be equally available on desktops, mobile phones, tablets and browsers by 2016, according to research published in September 2013 by Gartner Inc. Currently, a variety of apps and services for mobile content access, collaboration and productivity enable employees to collaborate in real time and work more effectively, but the fragmentation of options creates complexity and challenges for IT organizations, the research firm noted.
“In the past, collaboration on mobile devices meant interaction through wireless messaging and voice calls,” said Monica Basso, research vice president at Gartner in a press release announcing the research. “Today, smartphones and tablets have larger screens, touch-based user interfaces (UIs), location support, broad network connectivity, enhanced cameras and video support, voice over IP (VoIP) and so on. Such features enable a range of applications – both traditional and new – for employees to better communicate, collaborate, socialize, create and consume content.”
Research from CompTIA’s “Third Annual Trends in Enterprise Mobility” found that two-thirds to three-quarters of mobile businesses are using video conferencing, collaboration and VoIP to enable productivity.
CompTIA analysts said communications is a good example of a process for which businesses are pursuing mobile integration. After all, they said, communication is still a primary function of smartphones despite their broader capabilities and tablets, and while not a first choice for voice, certainly figure into unified communications (UC) schemes involving tools, such as video or instant messaging.
Tablets, with their larger form factor and expanding processing capabilities, are being leveraged for tasks previously performed on traditional PCs and notebooks. “This is causing a technology disruption being felt across the ICT industry,” noted AMI analysts. “In addition to basic communications activities, tablets are being used by SMBs for productivity-related applications, such as editing, sharing and storing documents. Their use for interactive and real-time communications and collaborative functions is also on the rise.”
The trouble with mobile-enabled communications and collaboration is a new level of complexity. “What is the right mix of tools for business needs? How will the tools work together to achieve the best result? How will the overall solution be managed? These are the questions that must be answered by businesses and the solution providers that deliver IT for their clients,” CompTIA analysts said.
Indeed, Gartner research found most current mobile collaboration initiatives are tactical and motivated to solve a specific issue, with organizations often using multiple tools — given the relative fragmentation and lack of standardization. However, the research firm said this is set to mature over the next three to five years to the point where every business will be using mobile collaboration to empower workers, make them more productive and engage customers in better interactions.
Frost & Sullivan’s Popova suggests UC as a solution. “[Mobility] is a trend that is driving the adoption of so many different tools,” she said. “Now it becomes more and more necessary to integrate them, and that’s why we started talking about unified communications.”
At first the idea was to enable people to reach each other not just using the phone to call and computer to message, but using the computer for both and using the phone – landline or mobile – for both, Popova said. Today, she said, unified communications is more generally defined as “unified access to multiple applications on any device, any network, anywhere, any time.”
“Unified communications or advanced collaboration tools are supporting the new virtual organization because they are enabling people to collaborate, exchange information more rapidly, make decisions faster and more effectively,[and] stay in touch,” Popova said.
UC for mobile business seems to be catching on. UC is among the top five applications mobilized in 2013 by global firms, according to an April 2013 report from IDC. The research firm said nearly half had mobilized UC.
UC — whether premises-based or delivered as a cloud-based services — offers some compelling advantages to businesses in maximizing the benefits of mobility.
Cost Savings. One of the big drivers for mobile UC — at least for the IT department — is cost savings. IT directors want to offload calling from the more expensive cellular network to no- or low-cost Wi-Fi connections widely available to remote and mobile workers.
Business Persona. A mobile UC client also enables mobile workers to users to present a business persona (business caller ID and business voice mail) to outside parties they are calling or who are calling them.
BYOD. Similarly, a mobile UC client can enable companies to tie in employee-owned phones, preserving the business persona. The only caveat here is that the client must support the range of mobile operating systems on employee devices.
One-Number Access. Mobile UC clients can support multiple devices for a single user, creating a find-me, follow-me scenario. Some mobile UC clients also are able to move calls from one device to another midstream.
Centralized Control. Sending all calls from the mobile client back through the UC switch also enables companies to have tighter control on call costs as well as call reporting. A sales or customer care department may want to have a record of all customer calls to or from sales or support personnel, as an example.
Secure Communications. Using the corporate platform also enables secure, private connections for instant messaging, voice, Web and video calling.
Consistent Communications. Mobile workers are able to use the same tools as the office workers and participate fully in collaborative meetings, particularly those involving Web and video tools.
Efficient Communications. Similarly, mobile clients that support presence can improve intracompany communications by enabling instant messaging, voice or video calling when employees are available to take those calls.
Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from the Chanel Partners Pulse Digital Issue, “How Cloud UC Enables Business Mobility.”
Download the digital issue, “How Cloud UC Enables Business Mobility,” from the Channel Partners Resource Center.