Is Lync Mobile The Last Hope for Mobile UC?
Microsoft is indeed coming at the UC market from a completely different angle in mobility. But it still has its challenges.
As we close out 2013, it appears that once again mobile UC clients on smartphones and tablets remain the most over-hyped and least utilized of communications technologies. Despite countless demonstrations, limelight positioning at industry keynotes, and innumerable lemmings touting its importance as a key element in any UC&C product, we can still find virtually no significant base of regular users. At least some of the vendor reps have finally installed their company's mobile client on their smartphones, but it almost seems like they had to be threatened with public flogging to get it that far.
The lack of uptake in mobile UC might be a by-product of the rather tentative acceptance of UC as a whole. In the InformationWeek 2013 State of UC survey and report, we found that the percentage of companies reporting UC deployments crept from 36% in 2012 to 38% in 2013. And among those who have deployed or are planning to deploy UC, 47% report serving 25% or fewer of their users. When asked to what degree various UC elements were being used in their organizations, mobile UC clients ranked near the bottom, occupying the same neighborhood as "social networking," "voice over Wi-Fi" and "softphones."
I started tracking the mobile UC market over five years ago, along with all of the other various and sundry attempts to craft a meaningful mobile hook for UC. Those included not just the mobile UC clients but other efforts such as: the dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular systems like those from ShoreTel Mobility (formerly Agito Networks), BlackBerry MVS, and Varaha; network-based services like Sprint Mobile Integration and Tango Networks' Abrazo (also used in Sprint Mobile Integration); the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA)-based offering from T-Mobile; and even more obtuse but equally unsuccessful gambits from more companies than I can readily (or more precisely, "bother to") remember.
Clearly, the mobile device and mobile apps market is not having the same problems. In the five years mobile UC has floundered, smartphone penetration in the U.S. has climbed from around 18% to over 60%, and the smartphone has essentially gone from an accessory for C-Level executives, to something you better be getting your kid for Christmas. (Chanukah came early this year, so those kids have theirs already.)
Again we ask the question, why do the UC vendors even bother trying to maintain this charade? The vendors' marketing investment has been successful only to the extent that "mobile UC" has become an all-important "RFP check-off;" some of us set the "success" bar a little higher.
It appears that as long as the PBX can forward desk calls to the user's mobile number (and every IP and even some TDM PBXs can do that), we've got what most users are looking for. The unmet challenge remains delivering mobile capabilities that enhance the UC experience and that users value enough to actually use on a regular basis.
My last hope for a meaningful UC capability rests with Microsoft, and in that I recognize I might be grabbing at straws. Microsoft is indeed coming at the UC (and with it, voice) market from a completely different angle. Far more so than the other UC suppliers, Microsoft actually seems to have been listening to what we've been talking about in mobility, including things like mobile device management (MDM), mobile security, mobile application management (MAM), and business transformation (aka CEBP) driven by mobility. More importantly, the company has actually taken those concepts into account in developing their mobile capability.
That's not to say that it will be successful either, but Microsoft does have a couple of things going for it. The first is that email remains the leading enterprise mobile application, and Microsoft's Exchange remains the email platform of choice. More importantly, Microsoft also controls a mobile operating system with Windows Phone, and now a mobile device platform through the Nokia acquisition.
These factors position Microsoft to make a run at the enterprise mobile market; it will remain a long shot to think any company is going to be able to take on the Apple-Android duopoly and eke out any meaningful share of the consumer market. But for the enterprise, a mobile user experience that makes the native operating system work seamlessly with Lync and its other software tools would be a unique offering.
In spite of these potential advantages, for the moment Microsoft continues to follow what has become the well-trodden path to failure, by using a mobile client on Windows Phone that operates essentially the same way that it does on Apple and Android devices--but at least it has the ability to deliver something better.
In any event, I just thank goodness that the rest of the mobile world is charging ahead, so the success of my practice isn't tied to the fate of mobile UC.