Can Unify's Circuit Make Mobile UC Sell?

At the closing of Unify's launch event for Circuit, CEO Dean Douglas made a point of emphasizing that mobile was a particularly important aspect of the new offering. Some of us had already downloaded the iOS app (the Android version will be released later) and were using it to track the questions and comments throughout the event. The big question, however, is whether a mobile capability would have any impact on the success or failure of Circuit.

The UC&C vendors have long been enamored of all things mobile though their success in that area has been virtually nonexistent. In its Magic Quadrant for UC, Gartner even writes, "we again place extra weight on mobility as it remains a key differentiator and requirement."

Read more on Unify's Circuit:

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The reality is that whether we're looking at Cisco's mobile Jabber clients, Microsoft's Lync Mobile, Avaya's one-X, ShoreTel Mobile or Unify's own OpenScape Mobile, none offers a mobile UC capability that captures users' attention. Sure, they all do a demo of the neat mobile client as part of the sales presentation, and prospects are often intrigued by the capability. However, when the system goes in, the mobile client quickly disappears.

I've written about this phenomenon numerous times, and the only mobile capability UC users value is simultaneous ring so when someone calls their desk phone, they can answer the call on their mobile. When they place a call from the mobile, they simply use the address book and native dialer in the smartphone. The reason is that placing a call with the mobile UC client requires the user to open that app and use a different dialing procedure. Corporate directory access and presence are a couple of other useful features, but they don't offer enough value for users to put up with having two different ways to place a phone call.

The mobile UC client can provide a benefit in a few special cases. In particular, it deals with the ability to keep the user's mobile number private. When a caller uses the mobile client, the call is routed through the PBX -- it comes in on one PBX trunk and is routed out on another (we call that "hairpinning"). On the outbound call, the PBX replaces the mobile number with the user's desk phone number, so the mobile number remains private.

Initially we thought this would be an important capability for customer-facing personnel like salespeople who might leave the company and still have customers calling them on their mobile numbers. In reality we found that salespeople routinely give out their personal mobile numbers, but they have a non-compete clause in their employment contract that deals with the issue.

However, some people do find it important to keep their numbers private. Among those would be teachers, school administrators, social workers, and parole officers. In some cases doctors and other health care workers might want to keep their numbers private, too, but interestingly some of the younger ones don't seem to care.

For the moment, Circuit doesn't support calls to or from the public telephone network though it does intend to add that capability via a SIP trunk interface to either OpenScape or any other SIP-capable telephone system. It does support peer-to-peer calling, much like Microsoft's Office 365 implementation of Lync.

Whether the mobile client for Circuit gets any uptake depends on whether organizations move their work processes to Circuit and whether users find it important to stay in touch with those "conversations" while using their smartphones or tablets. As a Lync user, I have the Lync client on my smartphone and my tablet, but I can't remember the last time I opened it. I have joined Lync meetings on my tablet, but typically do so with the Web client so I'm using the browser rather than the Lync mobile client.

As we have found with mobile UC capabilities in the past, users will choose the capabilities that are most convenient and efficient for them. The ultimate success for a mobile Circuit capability will hinge on:

1) whether Circuit is adopted
2) for what types of tasks organizations use it
3) how important it will be for mobile users to stay in touch with those workflows when a smartphone or tablet is the only device they have available.

Clearly Unify has a point when it says that new ways of doing work, particularly ones that don't rely on endless email exchanges, will emerge, and those work processes won't grind to a halt when someone gets up from their desk. However, making something mobile doesn't necessarily mean that anyone will find a benefit in taking it with them.

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