One of the core tenets of unified communications is the ability to access all of your enhanced communication and collaboration tools either in or out of the office. However, while all of the UC vendors offer mobile clients (and promote them endlessly), the uptake on the user side has been negligible. While conducting a number of sessions at a recent trade show, I polled the audiences at several sessions to see who was using those mobile UC tools. I found a total of five users, and three of them worked for Cisco (News - Alert)!
Clearly there has been a disconnect here, and it could be one that affects the whole UC value proposition. Users are increasingly mobile, and UC holds the promise of providing more functional and efficient communications to those harried mobile users. So why aren’t they jumping on this with both feet?
There appears to be a number of factors coming into play. First, mobile UC products simply aren’t providing enough of what users are looking for. Most mobile UC implementations involve installing a client on the mobile device that allows access to the corporate directory where presence status is displayed and users can then click to dial or text. However, this is different from the way users are accustomed to using their mobile phones.
What the UC vendors have failed to grasp is that people really like the way their phones work, and you would have to be offering something akin to eternal life to get them to change. Saving a few moments per day in making internal calls falls somewhat short of eternal life. Further, as most people use their mobile devices for both business and personal calls, you are asking them to handle those two sets of functions differently.
Another major factor is that what is new in UC is often old news in mobility. Take for example the idea of clicking to join a conference. This is indeed a very useful feature, but we’ve been able to do that on a BlackBerry for ages. Similarly, the ability to dial a number embedded in an e-mail or a Word document might be big news in UC, but it’s old hat in mobility.
Therein lies the UC vendors’ biggest challenge in gaining traction in the mobile space. They are trying to do what the mobile solution is already doing, and doing it better than they can. When it comes to supporting the mobile user, the mobility companies simply have been focusing on it way longer than the UC crew and hence have developed better mobile solutions. That is certainly the case with BlackBerry and is increasingly happening on the more consumer-oriented Apple (News - Alert) and Android platforms as well.
The UC vendors also face some major challenges in delivering that same degree of functionality. For a variety of reasons, the mobile device manufacturers do not expose all of their APIs to third-party developers. In some cases that has to do with ensuring a consistent user experience. (Apple is very big on that.) And, in some cases, it has to do with the security exposure that could result from allowing applications to access potentially sensitive contacts, calendar entries, or other information on the phone. There is also the issue of the mobile vendor looking to maintain control of particular functions for marketing or contractual reasons. We certainly saw that in the early days of the iPhone (News - Alert) when applications that allowed tethering or VoIP over 3G mysteriously disappeared from the iTunes store in the dark of the night.
There is a lot more at stake for the UC vendors than the few bucks they might make by selling a mobile UC client. That financial consideration is shrinking in importance as the mobile UC client may be offered as a free add-on with the UC seat license; Cisco’s CUWL licensing is a good case in point. If the user’s primary access to communications is shifting from the desk to the mobile, and they’re looking to the mobility vendors to meet their needs, where does that leave the UC vendor who’s touting a solution for a desk the user is never at?
Mobility companies like RIM and possibly mobile device management vendors like AirWatch, MobileIron, Sybase and Zenprise could begin adding UC-like capabilities to their offerings. They might need to partner with gateway and session border controller vendors like Acme Packet, AudioCodes or NET to round out the offering. But the locus could easily shift from the vendors who are grounded in wires and desktops to UC offerings centered on the mobile universe.
Remember, just because they don’t call it U, if it walks like a duck….
Michael Finneran is a UC expert at UCStrategies (www.ucstrategies.com).
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Edited by Rich Steeves