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Fostering 'Mobile Enablement' in the Enterprise

Mobility may be universally recognized as one of the most important initiatives in the enterprise, but as I gleaned from the mobility sessions I hosted at last week's Enterprise Connect 2015 conference, UC vendors are still struggling to deliver mobile solutions that users value.

Enterprise Connect 2015 featured one of the most extensive mobility tracks we have ever put together, giving me the opportunity to work with some of the sharpest folks in the mobile space and talk about some of the hottest subjects in enterprise mobility and mobile UC. The picture I came away with is that while the rest of the mobility world is charging ahead full steam, mobile UC vendors are still in the doldrums.

In my session, "Getting BYOD Right -- Lessons Learned," I did my annual audience poll asking if any of the attendees were making use of vendors' mobile UC clients. I got the standard response when two out of about 100 hands went up. Interestingly, both of these attendees said their companies use Lync, but the uptake in each case was only about 5% of users.

The same story played out in the "UC Market: What's Hot, What's Not" session run by Peter Hale, principal analyst of MZA Ltd., and Tim Banting, a principal analyst with Current Analysis. In identifying what types of devices users were employing for accessing UC services, mobile UC clients racked up about 7% of users, with most of them using it in conjunction with a traditional desk phone. Overall, the traditional desk phone ruled the roost with 56% of users and another 28% splitting time between a desk phone and a desktop soft phone.

One bright spot in mobile and UC -- that being conferencing and collaboration apps -- turned up in the "What Enterprise Users Want in Mobile UC?" session with Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research. Users do want to participate in conferences while mobile, so these types of offering fill a real need. Further, if the new social collaboration platforms like Cisco Spark (formerly Project Squared) and Unify Circuit catch on, users will need to stay connected through them while mobile just as they need to have email access today.

Despite the rather puny uptake currently, users are clearly gearing up for mobile UC, particularly over in-house Wi-Fi networks. In one of our best-attended panels, "Meeting the Challenges of Lync on Wi-Fi," attendees got to hear Pascal Menezes, principal program manager at Microsoft, Manfred Arndt, a distinguished technology with HP, and Christian Gilby, director of product marketing at Aruba Networks, put on a master's level session on where the main challenges are today, and more importantly, the current and developing technologies for dealing with them. Bottom line, it still takes effort to get real-time traffic to work over Wi-Fi, but it very definitely can be done.

One of the best sessions, I think, was "What's Up With Enterprise Mobile Devices?" We've been running this session for several years, but for next year we may need to change the title. We had an excellent set of panelists from AirWatch, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon and while we started off talking about smartphones, tablets, and wearables the discussion quickly shifted from devices to applications, which turned out to be a far more interesting topic.

Every one of the panelists had an application or two to contribute, each with real ROI impact. As we talked about them, it became clear that virtually all of the apps being described addressed task workers rather than knowledge workers -- needless to say, mobile UC didn't get any mentions. The consensus was that knowledge workers are apparently depending on the UC capabilities that are inherent in their smartphones augmented with apps downloaded from public app stores. Those public apps could be of the generic productivity variety or developed by independent software vendors such as Salesforce, Oracle, McKesson, and others to allow mobile platform access.

The most interesting comment came from Kevin Keith, director of business development for AirWatch, an enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendor. He described his company's role as fostering "mobile enablement." That struck a chord with me because most users think of EMM as a means of managing and securing mobile devices. The way AirWatch is thinking about it is that the data security and device management features it offers are necessary for any enterprise mobility initiative, so it is enabling mobility -- more specifically, enabling it in a responsible and business-like fashion.

Separately, the biggest surprise of the event was Fred Knight's announcement that he would be stepping down as general manager and co-chairman of Enterprise Connect. I have known and worked with Fred since he joined Business Communications Review as editor back in 1984; BCR Founder Jerry Goldstone was still publisher. Through his many years at BCR and then No Jitter and the various manifestations of PBX/VoiceCon/Enterprise Connect, Fred has been a dedicated and insightful leader and a good friend. His presence, his wisdom, and his humor will be sorely missed going forward.

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