Reports of the Death of Mobile UC and Deployment are Greatly Exaggerated

Eric Krapf's recent blog on the demise of mobile UC does raise some valid points, but to pronounce the death of UC mobility is premature; even more so for "deployment".

First, let's look at UC mobility. I believe the UC mobility industry is only in its infancy. There are economic forces driving enterprise communications and UC mobility closer together, rather than apart. Mobility within an enterprise will ultimately succumb to economics, and those economic drivers will be provided by "advanced network technology".

Mobility and multi-device requirements are two massive trends in our industry. It's true that enterprise UC has not been able to incorporate these trends into the corporate UC environment in an effective way to date. Smart consumer devices and the enhanced usability of new operating systems have eclipsed the enterprise communications industry.

Features to integrate mobility into the corporate communications system, such as single number reach (SNR), have not been adopted widely. Fixed-mobile-convergence (FMC) has practically disappeared too. Employees continue to use their personal mobile devices (and numbers) independent of the corporate IT department and corporate network.

The role of enterprise IT is about giving people choice in the way they communicate and drive enterprise productivity improvements, while still being able to maintain some degree of control--which really means controlling costs. Economics drives decisions, and while this must be balanced with user adoption rates, economics usually wins.

Just look at the examples of SIP Trunks and the virtualization of data centers. Both these solutions provide significant economic benefits over the traditional on-site PBX coupled with a local PSTN gateway. Do you see any users complaining that they don't like their calls now running through a virtual server and out a SIP trunk? They don't care, because it has little impact on the end-user. The network allows users to continue using their services as they always did.

But how does this apply to UC mobility?

A good example is the trend towards multiple devices, which now includes smart mobile devices. Users will increasingly have a mix of the following:

• Desk phone (it's not going away any time soon)
• Extension mobility profile (to log into a hot-desk when visiting a branch site)
• Soft phone on a laptop (to work out of a hotel room or airport lounge)
• Smart client on a smart phone (to operate as you travel)
• Smart client on their note pad (to be "cool")
• And in the future ... a client on a pair of smart glasses (can't wait)

Users want their UC features and services, anywhere, anytime, on any device; and with a similar ease of use. They want the same experience across all their devices and they want business calls to be charged to the company, not to their personal cell phone bill. There are clear productivity gains from this (e.g. getting your staff to work longer hours for free).

But how do you deliver this when everyone has a different set of devices and applications? The answer is network technology. The concept of software defined networks (SDN) that is sweeping the networking industry can apply equally to unified communications: The intelligence to link your devices to a user profile (that combines all your permissions and preferences), can then apply business logic and rules to automatically directs calls to and from your devices, over the most appropriate path. This is very similar to what SDN is delivering to data networks today and can be done for UC mobility. I know of several vendor companies working on this today.

A good example is advanced number translation. It doesn't matter what device you call from, the network can automatically detect and translate your presented number and convert it to your office number (or a URI, if the device you are calling can accept a URI). So those inflexible sales guys that Eric raised will never have their personal cell number presented to a business customer again, no matter what they do. This technology is available today.

Another example is the bundling of cellular and wireline communications into a fixed price per month. One predictable, monthly, flat-rate price per user, no matter how many devices they have or which network they use will drive corporations down this cloud path, just as virtualization and SIP trunks have done.

Providers can implement advanced automatic dial plan management, spanning multiple networks (fixed, WiFi and cellular), that will drive call flows to optimize network utilization and hence the cost. Again, this can be achieved without impacting user behavior. Users still dial their number (or URI), but behind the scenes, the network technology sends the call down the optimum path, lowering the costs.

Technology can support user independence and choice, delivering true productivity gains from mobility, while still driving down corporate communication costs.

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Secondly, I'd like to challenge this idea that all we need to focus on is "adoption" and that "deployment" is dead. It's a great line for a conference, but it's just not true...unless of course you want to dumb everything down (which is not what organizations what).

Yes, of course all vendors need to improve the usability of their interfaces and enable plug and play. Ease of use is fundamental, as Steve Jobs has shown. But it doesn't mean that detailed requirements and the thousands of configuration and dial plan settings have disappeared for a sophisticated enterprise with a rich array of services and a distributed branch network. Improving adoption doesn't mean you have to dumb down the solution; quite the opposite.

My team is working on a 30k seat migration right now, and this particular customer (a financial institution) definitely does not want to dumb-down their service offering to their end-users. They see communications as a competitive advantage. They want a rich feature set, multiple devices per user and a more complex dial plan to drive down costs. There are over 3 million advanced settings that have to be loaded for their 30k users in this deployment (an average of 100 settings per user).

It's not just about "adoption". You can't adopt anything if someone or something hasn't configured your network and devices and services. You can't just plug a device in and have it self-configure, unless there is an automated configuration tool behind the scene doing the work for you. Otherwise it's just a magic show!

The irony here is that to offer more choice and to simplify the user experience (to drive adoption), the complexity of the underlying technology needs to increase. No one seriously thinks that the technology in an iPhone or a 4G network is simple, do they? Steve Jobs didn't dumb down the features in his iPhone; quite the opposite.

One of my favorite quotations from Albert Einstein is:

"Make things as simple as possible...but don't make them simple".

I would translate this for the Enterprise UC industry as:

Make UC features and devices as easy as possible to use (driving adoption), without reducing the sophistication of those features and functionality, nor the richness of the call flows and five-9s availability.

If we do this successfully, then not only will UC mobility be adopted within the enterprise, but it will become as natural as dial tone.

Christopher May is VP Business Development and Co-Founder, VOSS.