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Time to Go All Mobile?

As companies embrace anytime, anywhere communications--driven by the ubiquity of mobile devices--has the time finally come (yet again) to toss aside IP hardphones or even softphones?

It's a loaded question that many IT professionals are exploring. Numerous IT decision-makers have asked us in recent months: Can we just ditch the handset? After all, handsets are the most expensive piece of the capital for an IP telephony/UC rollout or upgrade.

There are a few viable answers, depending on factors in any given organization. Here are some to consider:

Company culture: Is the culture innovative? Do employees respond positively to change and to new technologies? For many companies, even if the answer to the first question is yes, the answer to the second question is no. Employees generally do not respond well to change because they are afraid of loss. So, before pulling the plug, it's imperative to educate the employees on what they'll lose, yes, but also what they'll gain by moving to an all-mobile model.

Campus/building cellular performance: For many organizations, the cellular quality is poor inside a high-rise building or in certain areas of the campus. That doesn't preclude a move to an all-mobile environment. It simply means you must work with wireless providers to install small-cell technology (femto or pico cells), which improve the cellular signal and overall sound quality.

BYOD Policy: If a company allows employees to bring their own mobile device to work, the chance of them shifting entirely to mobile devices is greater. Nemertes has found that 69% of organizations support BYOD today, a data point that indicates employees are increasingly more comfortable with using a mobile device for work purposes.

The problem, though, is the risk involved when a company allows personally-owned mobile devices to be the communications means for the entire organization. What if the device breaks or the employee doesn't pay his or her monthly service bill? The phone may unexpectedly be non-existent, and then how does that individual stay productive? Organizations that take the risk of employee-owned devices as primary-mode-of-communication must develop clear policies on how to support the devices and apps, and must develop contingency plans (such as a stable of "loaner" phones) should an employee's phone break.

Extension of UC capabilities: Moving to a mobile-only world requires UC integration. Already, 51% of companies integrate UC with their mobile devices, and another 22.2% are evaluating the capabilities. One of the key reasons is phone number ownership. If the only number your customers have is their sales reps' private cellphone number, you'll discover some problems when the sales reps leave the company. It's imperative to mandate that all calls go through the IP PBX or server, using mobile extension to reach the mobile device. Additionally, if a mobile device is the only communications endpoint employees use, they need similar features to a desktop handset (or even softphone), such as directory integration, presence status, IM capabilities, and conferencing.

Job Function: For salespeople, service people, traveling executives, and mobile workers (construction, clinicians, retail managers), an all-mobile solution is ideal. But IT must make sure the devices are highly functional, with full UC integration. For other positions--those at a desk in front of a computer, in a contact center, etc.--a hardphone or softphone are likely the most functional solution. Rather than working off a small smartphone at a desk, most people would prefer a nice computer or even hardphone screen.

Battery life: For all that smartphones offer, they still lack on battery life. A mobile sales rep who has been out all day, active on the phone, could come back to her home or branch office only to find the battery is at 5% and the charger is missing. Again, good planning (spare batteries, chargers attached to the desks, etc.) can alleviate such problems, but they'll pop up, and the company must be prepared, or else productivity, and even revenue, could suffer.

Every few years, IT staffs evaluate the question of going all mobile. It's become more relevant now because of the broad acceptance of mobile devices. Ultimately, I believe the best approach for most companies is a hybrid solution. Regardless of the plan, UC integration is a must to ensure maximum productivity.