What Is "Mobile UC"?
A study confirms that enterprise users are adopting UC technology, but it's still unclear if they're using enterprise systems, or just the consumer features of their devices.
While digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last week, I ran across the Webtorials "2012 Mobile Unified Communications State-of-the-Market Report" (sponsored by Sonus Networks) that makes the claim that "Mobile UC is firmly established among 'early adopters' and growing toward mainstream adoption." The study is based on a survey of Webtorials' database that drew responses from approximately 200 individuals in companies with at least 500 employees, of which 57% are U.S.-based.
When asked to characterize the extent of their mobile UC deployment, 8% replied "Extensive;" 23% "Widespread;" 24% "Intermediate;" 21% "Limited;" and 24% "Just Starting."
In my work with clients on mobility projects, I'm not seeing anything near that level of adoption, certainly not when we look at the use of mobile clients offered by the UC and IP-PBX vendors. So unless the respondents were working for UC/IP PBX vendors, I'm at a loss to figure out what these organizations are using that they identify as "Mobile UC."
The report defines Mobile UC as "the ability to utilize unified communications capabilities in a mobile environment;" however, that definition could cover any number of possible implementations. Certainly the mobile UC clients on smartphones or tablets would fall under that umbrella, but so would lots of other things. For example, if I were using a traditional UC client on a laptop while on a Wi-Fi network at Starbucks or even on an airplane, that would also fit the bill.
However, the native capabilities on virtually any smartphone can provide click-to-call, click-to-join a meeting, access to multiple communications modes (text, email, voice, or video), and a number of other features that either by themselves or through the use of a network-based service like Skype could be called "UC." So which implementation are the respondents talking about?
Some of the data matches what I am seeing in the field, such as the fact that 63% of respondents see smartphone use as "Extensive" or "Widespread"; 29% claim this is the case for tablets. Further, the study found that roughly two-thirds of "knowledge workers" are mobile at least some of the time.
The report points to a number of factors that should signal a need for the types of capabilities that a mobile UC solution could provide. In the "Pain Index," the report identifies the difficulty in engaging capabilities when mobile, versus doing so inside the office. Among the biggest gaps were: "Participating in an impromptu video chat," "Participating in a multimedia conference," "Sharing files" and "Finding out if a colleague is available (presence)." The inclusion of that last feature is especially strange in that most of the mobile UC clients offer presence-enabled directory and have done so for some time.
The total time lost as a result of the shortcomings of existing mobile UC capabilities came to a whopping 2.6 hours per day, according to the report. Assuming that some of the tasks were not "mutually conclusive," the study pared that figure down to 1.5 hours per day, and assuming that only a third of that time could actually be recouped, they computed a potential estimate of the dollar value per employee per year of at least $5,500.
In the end, it is difficult to ascertain what the report actually tells us about mobile UC adoption, as they failed to ask one critical question: What mobile UC tools are you using?
Without a real understanding about what the respondents are actually commenting on, it's difficult to justify the final claim that, "The adoption of Mobile UC will be accelerating rapidly as enterprises see the combined power of new devices (smartphones and pad/tablet computers) as an enabling technology coupled with the demand from users to support these devices as a part of the overall consumerization of the network and BYOD trends."
It's good that we're starting to see some real analysis of the potential for mobile UC, but I'm afraid we're going to have to get a lot more "granular" to really understand where mobility fits in the UC picture and, from there, to come up with tools for enterprises that are as engaging as what users get on the consumer front.