Mobile UC: The 'Power Liftgate' of Mobility
Some UC functions make for great demos, but don’t provide much in the way of real value or convenience and so are easily forgotten.
Last fall we bought my wife a new car, one with all of the electronic bells and whistles. Obviously it syncs our phone contacts over Bluetooth and allows for hands-free calling, and it even has a button on the steering wheel that lets us give commands to Siri. However, the one feature that bowled us over was the power trunk.
I'd seen a power liftgate feature on SUVs, but not on sedans. So when the salesman showed us how the power trunk worked on the car we were looking at, we immediately thought it was the coolest thing ever. If your arms are full and you need to get into the trunk, he explained, you can kick your foot under a certain spot on the rear bumper and the trunk opens automatically! If your arms are full with stuff you took out of the trunk, you can kick your foot under the same spot and the trunk will close.
As the salesman showed us how to use this neat feature, my wife and I were like kids on Christmas morning, taking turns practicing our kicks -- we were delighted. But fast-forward a year, and we probably haven't used the power trunk trick but twice.
So it goes with things that make for great demos -- on most days, they don't provide much in the way of real value or convenience, and you forget about them. I know I'd all but forgotten about this feature, even though we'd been so keen on it, until last night when I saw a TV ad for another manufacturer's power liftgate. We both use the talk-to-Siri feature and a bunch of other neat capabilities the car has all the time, but the trunk open/close feature... not at all.
What we have seen with mobile UC, particularly the variety that involves putting a client on the user's smartphone, is that it results in a less convenient way for users to make phone calls. Clearly the mobile client is one of the must-sees in any system demo, but the evaluation team rarely thinks through the likelihood of people actually using it. What we see time and time again is that people try it once (if that), determine that it doesn't make their lives any easier, and go back to making their mobile calls they way they always have done. This mirrors a theme we have seen across the mobile universe: "No value equals no usage."
In talking last week with Ed Wright, ShoreTel's director of product management, I heard a different view. He insisted ShoreTel's mobile app has some useful capabilities, particularly the click-to-join meeting function. I didn't want to ruin his day, but I use Skype for Business and I have a click-to-join capability in all of my Skype for Business invites and I can use it in either my Outlook or iCal calendars. What's more, I get Microsoft's wideband IP voice for the audio rather than a crummy PSTN connection like the one on which we were talking. I do have the Lync mobile app on my iPhone and iPad, but I don't think I've ever used it -- another "power liftgate."
I will give ShoreTel credit for one aspect of its mobility initiative. We in the mobile space have known for years that one of the keys to success is embedding analytics within a mobile app so usage can be monitored and measured. I was listening to a rebroadcast webinar by Van Baker, research VP at Gartner, on Best Practices in Mobile Development yesterday, and he made a major point of stressing the importance of embedding analytics in any mobile app to understand key features and usage patterns. The developer can then use that intelligence to guide development of new features and enhancements in the app. ShoreTel is the only mobile UC provider I've seen that is actually making use of analytics in its mobile app. I don't know if it will get ShoreTel a better adoption rate for its UC client than anyone else, but at least it's trying.
Despite the depressing reality, the UC vendors keep trumpeting the "importance of mobility" in UC, and the lemmings of the analyst community feel compelled to repeat the chant like a good round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Even Gartner, an organization for which I have the utmost respect, is caught up in the delusion. In this year's Magic Quadrant for UC the Gartner analysts wrote, "... we again place extra weight on mobility as it remains a key differentiator and requirement." Can you pass the Kool-Aid?
In all fairness, legacy telephone systems have for decades included hundreds of features nobody ever used, so I guess it's only right that we continue this tradition as we evolve to UC. The big thing is, they didn't charge for these features, so nobody cared. Of course, in the product evaluation, we checked off all of those boxes but assigned zero weight to those meaningless features.
So the reasonable guidance would be, make sure the solution has single-number reach (the one mobility feature users actually value), make sure the other mobility stuff is free, check off the box, value it at zero -- and enjoy the demo.