Enterprises are always searching for options that give them the business edge over the competition to maximize customer service and responsiveness. A timely response to a customer or business associate in resolving a problem or responding to a sale opportunity is critical to a business success in todays economic climate where selling on price or product availability alone is not enough. Typically, such interactions are not in written form (letter or e-mail), but rather voice: business-to-customer, business-to-vendor, or associate-to-associate. It is the person-to-person interaction that speeds business decisions.
Taking full advantage of direct person-to-person connections, however, is becoming more difficult in the enterprise because of the increasing mobility of employees in their jobs. In retail, healthcare, government, education, and other industries, more and more employees have less desk time. This has been true of the non-carpeted areas of business such as warehouses for some time, but is now becoming more of a reality for the carpeted areas as well. Usually, this means that the chances for first-time person-to-person connections diminish and telephone tag ensues. This scenario becomes a problem for the enterprise trying to meet its responsiveness goal. Whats the solution to this problem? Mobilize enterprise voice services to enable employees to answer their phones when away from their desks.
Technology Gates For Full Enterprise Voice Mobility
The ability to mobilize voice within an enterprise is much more realistic today than it was, say, four years ago. The enterprise adoption of two major technologies VoIP (define - news -alerts) and Wireless LANs has paved the way for new voice mobility options. Major industry analysts, such as Infonetics and Gartner, have projected that by 2008 over 80 percent of enterprises will have deployed VoIP solutions and will be using WiFi as a wireless VoIP extension to meet campus voice mobility requirements. There are good solutions on the market today to meet the campus mobility requirements, but is this the ultimate flexibility that enterprises need? An enterprise-class mobile voice solution goes beyond support of wireless telephony on-campus access to
include support for off-campus access and voice enabling of critical business applications.
Voice connectedness for corporate associates often goes beyond the campus and extends into the public areas where classic road warriors (sales and executives) and field service members still require some level of connectivity with the home office. Off-campus mobile access usually means use of a cellular phone with inbound office calls being routed to the cellular phone, but without access to any PBX supplementary service (e.g., call transfer, park, etc.). Additionally, such associates now have the problem of managing two voice mail boxes: cellular and PBX voice mails. Cellular phones do meet most mobility/communication requirements when away from the office but are typically expensive and orthogonal to any voice service supported on campus by the enterprise.
Convergence is a word that is thrown around a lot these days and can mean many different things, depending on the context. With respect to understanding how mobile voice can evolve to meet the enterprise class requirements, convergence is a key consideration. Convergence will occur in multiple stages and through the collaboration of multiple vendors:
Network Convergence Unifying VoIP access across Ethernet and WLAN.
Device Convergence Dual-mode (WiFi/Cellular) devices making cross-network roaming possible.
Local & Wide Area Convergence Unifying VoIP access across IEEE 802 networks and Cellular networks often referred to as Fixed/Mobile Convergence (FMC).
Application Convergence The final evolutionary step that promises to fulfill application mobility requirements and makes mobile voice truly enterprise-class.
There are enterprise benefits to be realized at each of these evolutionary stages that create its own market opportunities.
We are at Stage #1 with regard to current commercial offerings with campus mobile solutions being deployed with one vendor supplying the WLAN, one the WiFi handset, and one the PBX. This solution, while somewhat costly, satisfies the on-campus mobility requirements by bringing the PBX functionality to the point of action wherever the user may be within the enterprise.
Stage #2 of the mobile product evolution is just now coming about. Many enterprises have attempted to solve the mobility problem through use of cell phones, but with the advent of dual-mode devices (PDAs and handsets) the opportunity of always being connected (in-building through WiFi and out of building through cellular services) is viable. Early usage models of such devices treat the WiFi-VoIP capabilities and the cellular voice capabilities as non-integrated applications hosted on the same device. Such devices have a limited usefulness without an FMC solution, whereby a call can be sustained when traversing WLAN and cellular networks, extending the enterprise connection boundaries beyond their four walls of the office. Even the FMC technology, however, is not a complete solution for enterprises as it doesnt provide for integration into the enterprise application fabric.
Stage #3 is just on the horizon. Building on the base convergence of networks and devices is a new benefit: extension of important enterprise applications beyond the corporate campus. A prime example of such new enterprise-class mobile capabilities is the scenario where a dual-mode handset functions as an extension to the enterprise PBX regardless of the accessing network transport services an anywhere office phone. Being able to dial enterprise associates via abbreviated numbers or to transfer a call to an associate without consideration of location is a real value-add to the enterprise. Additionally, many key enterprise business applications have a direct association with person-to-person communications and will benefit the enterprise by presenting a consistent voice service embedded in some of their standard business applications marriage of voice-associated data context. From a CRM, for example, the user will be able to initiate a phone call or IM session with a target customer, while viewing
pertinent customer information that is essential for that call.
Providing An Enterprise Class Voice Solution
With all the technological components (networks, handsets, and applications) readily available, what are the key design elements in providing mobile voice solutions that are truly enterprise class? There are several major criteria that must be met to provide a successful solution:
The mobility component must be integrated inside the enterprise network domain.
An application integration interface must be offered to project application features (such as PBX features) out beyond the scope of the campus network.
The mobility component must be wireless transport agnostic.
Some popular FMC solutions require that the voice call control be controlled by the cellular operator and reside within the operators network. While these solutions provide enhanced mobility, they dont offer enterprise system integration options, making such devices a mere adjunct to the corporate telephony solution with weak feature coupling. An enterprise-centric mobile voice product will offer seamless voice access to WiFi and cellular service but would need to use WiFi access (campus or hotspot) preferentially over the cellular services to maximize cost benefit. Enterprise-centric mobility solutions also are designed to allow the enterprise to maintain control over the use of their corporate WLAN assets, assurance of conformance to network security policies, and cost control over unbounded use of cellular minutes.
Optimum value-add for the enterprise for such products will be integration with critical corporate applications. Integration with the corporate (or site) PBX, for example, results in the dual-mode mobile device being an anywhere office phone. Having a single phone number and consistent features are characteristic of such devices, providing maximum connectedness to the enterprise, regardless of the location of the user. Other enterprise value-add options will be seen in the integration of applications such as CRM, SFA, ERP, and others. The mobile solution providers will expose simple APIs whereby successful vertical market application developers can integrate voice with little effort to make their application more mobile.
For deployment within a Global 2000 enterprise, mobile voice wireless agnostic solutions will win out over single carrier offerings. This is because the agnostic solutions allow the enterprise the flexibility to choose which cellular service best suits their needs for geographic coverage and cost. Such solutions provide a simplified vendor option for deployment with different mobile devices and WLAN providers.
The basic building blocks for enterprise-class mobile voice solutions are in place. What is missing are inexpensive dual-mode radio PDAs or smartphones and enterprise-centric mobility application solutions. Commercially available dual-mode devices are appearing on the market and the ASP will erode as sales volume pick up. By mid-2007, there will be a large number of mobile hardware devices available to meet almost any enterprises needs from inexpensive (<$300) dual-mode handsets to ruggedized, multi-function PDAs (>$2,000). Such devices will be supported by a number of carrier-centric mobility products, but without the enterprise integration capability. The enterprise-centric mobility software (server and clients) are just now coming to the market and will mature over the next 1224 months. Key decision points for an enterprise evaluation of these products will be:
1. Where is the application control point (enterprise or carrier)? and
2. What level of integration is afforded with existing enterprise applications? IT
Richard Watson is vice president of product development at DiVitas Networks. For more information, please visit the company online at www.divitas.com (news - alerts).
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