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Mobility and Unified Communications

Two of the biggest trends in enterprise communications continue to converge: unified communications and mobility. Some vendors, and indeed some IT managers and end users, confuse the two. They are not the same, although some companies will want to extend their UC applications and capabilities to mobile workers. Vendors are developing mobile clients that enable such portability, and most support an array of endpoint devices, including Blackberry and, increasingly, the iPhone.Much of the confusion between UC and mobility is centred around fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), which allows companies to seamlessly switch between cellular and corporate networks as needed, in the process saving money and extending capabilities to mobile users. While FMC is required to enable mobile UC presence and other capabilities, UC is not required to enable FMC. Still, it appears that many companies that leverage FMC also recognize the value of UC, so while the two aren't mutually dependent, they are often found together. And, of course, FMC can help justify the costs of a UC deployment, especially for employees who travel a lot.

Regardless, mobility is a critical issue for many enterprises, as employees increasingly need to communicate and collaborate with one another-as well as partners and customers--from anywhere. UC applications can offer distinct benefits to mobile employees, who can take advantage of integrated contacts, chat, unified messaging, and one-click conferencing.

As companies consider deploying UC, they should benchmark how and where mobility fits into the equation. On the technical side, this will require an assessment of the available mobile clients from their preferred UC vendor(s), network readiness, devices in use, and so on. On the business side, most organizations will need to re-evaluate which employees they consider to be "mobile." The category is no longer limited to road warriors (executives, sales and service personnel, etc.). Knowledge workers who routinely work from home evenings and weekends, for example, will benefit from mobile unified communications.

Today, many organizations don't pay for mobile devices or calling plans for the majority of their employees. As a result, end users choose the plan and phone that work best for them--and those can vary greatly depending on location and user preference, or both. Some IT departments support a mobile client for only one device (typically a smart phone, and more typically a Blackberry); people using other endpoints are told to support themselves, or not use the technology at all.

This strategy has many problems, not least that it makes it impossible for a company to deploy mobile UC to all its employees. There's also the small matter of ownership; if an employee procures and pays for his own cell plan and phone, he owns the number-and takes it with him when he leaves the company. For these and other reasons, we recommend that IT and business managers carefully consider who really needs a mobile phone and UC client-and then, that they pay to give those users the plan and device that works best for them