The Key to Winning in Mobile UC: Beat the Incumbent

An interesting thought struck me recently while I was listening to yet another presentation about a CallKit-enabled mobile UC app -- and it wasn't that this was finally the "world beater" in mobile UC.

CallKit, you may recall, refers to a set of APIs Apple released last year, along with iOS 10, that would allow VoIP or mobile UC developers to build apps that could use the mobile operating system's native dialer function. As such, CallKit addresses one of the major obstacles to mobile UC adoption. While CallKit is a major step forward in improving the user experience, I fear we have yet an even bigger obstacle to overcome in fulfilling the promise of mobile UC: the entrenched incumbent.

The Smartphone Effect

The incumbent solution for mobile UC is the smartphone itself. As I have observed many times on No Jitter, smartphones do what we call "UC." We can pop open a directory entry and, with a single click, set up a voice or video call, or generate a text or an email... and all done with an integrated and highly fluid user experience. And as we all know (and experience every day), users love it.

The rap on this has long been that these are essentially "consumer" capabilities. Well they were certainly designed with consumer requirements front and center, but it didn't take long for users to figure out these sorts of capabilities could make them way more productive at work as well. So, they figured out how to set up their work email accounts on their smartphones, with or without the support of the corporate IT department.

Early on users might have been somewhat reluctant to burn precious voice minutes on business calls, but that totally evaporated with the advent of unlimited talk and text plans. And speaking of text, they could have used a mobile UC client that integrated with the desktop UC platform's texting capability. However, most found basic SMS (native in the smartphone) to be more convenient, and for iPhone users, Apple had integrated its proprietary (but highly secure) messaging capability with SMS in one app, Message. If they had to deal with Android devices, WhatsApp became a preferred choice.

As we all know, texting has become just as important as voice for internal communications, and the mobile device is the users' texting platform of choice. How often have you seen someone sitting at his or her desk, in front of a big screen desktop with a full keyboard and a UC soft client installed, but poking away at a smartphone to send texts. (Note that if you happen to have a Mac and iPhone, and both are logged into the same iCloud account, you can send and receive SMS and Apple messages on either.)

Now this do-it-yourself-on-the-mobile scenario simply won't play in all situations, such as in regulated or security-sensitive environments. Users in those environments will be required to use appropriate vehicles for any business communication, although we all know that a lot of those users skirt the rules. However, the rules will be clearly defined, and there will likely (or should) be serious repercussions for the scofflaws.

For those users, IT will be responsible for providing solutions that meet the organization's regulatory or security requirements. That can result in the user carrying two phones (one for business, one for personal) or maintaining a mobile device management (MDM) client that isolates and secures all business communications and applications on one phone.

Outside of those special cases, users just use their personal smartphones for all manner of business communications -- and, as we noted, they love it!

So how do you supplant something that people love? The simple answer is to give them something that they love even more -- or, potentially, something that offers more functionality but not at the expense of the fluid user experience that they have come to expect. Therein lies the rub.

What's in a Winner

I have now sat through countless presentations that propose scenarios and use cases that seek to suggest that the status quo just isn't good enough or suitable for every set of requirements. That is apparently seen as a justification for having someone settle for an inferior solution -- hard sell. One I hear regularly (and have heard for a decade or longer) is that we need to control business numbers, particularly for customer-facing personnel like salespeople who might leave the company but retain contact with customers via their mobiles.

I remember presenting that potential problem to a sales manager some years ago, and he looked at me querulously and said, "You don't think we have non-compete clauses in our salespeoples's contracts?"

Sure, there will be some one-offs that do require more invasive solutions, but the more wildly you extend the special use cases, the smaller the target market becomes -- and you don't often make meaningful money in niches. For the vast majority of cases, letting employees use their own smartphones for business tasks holds few risks, increases employee satisfaction, and saves money, even if the company throws them a few bucks a month for using their personal cellphones for work.

So while I have been watching the recent spate of enterprise-oriented mobile offerings with great interest, I am not at all convinced anyone has hit on a real winning solution as yet. Some of the characteristics I would look for in that winning solution would be:

  • Broad market appeal (no "niches")
  • Clear value proposition that focuses on user impact (not "IT impact")
  • Benefits that are simple to explain
  • No or minimal change to the current user experience (unfortunately for the iOS base, that hinges on Apple's decisions regarding what it will and will not open up to developers)
  • If the solution requires a significant change to user behavior, the user benefit will have to be enormous

The problem I have seen with mobile UC from the outset is that the product planning seems to start from the idea of "What can we make?" as opposed to "What do people really need that will wow them?" The mobile industry has done a great job delivering products with broad appeal, marvelous functionality, an engaging user experience, and all of those benefits continue to grow. The users have taken to these generic capabilities and molded them into their business as well as their personal lives. As we have seen countless times in the mobile world, people will adopt new things, but the tradeoff between increased capability and increased aggravation has to make sense.

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