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Enterprise Connect, one of the major trade shows for the UC and IP PBX businesses, went off in Orlando last week and focused on the themes of cloud, SIP trunking, video, social, and mobility. While there was plenty to be said about the first four, my core focus is mobility, and how VARs and SIs might profit from the exploding interest in mobile devices and applications.
While mobility was a big topic in all of the keynotes, there were few announcements of mobility products. Many of the products being touted were looking at delivering video on tablets and smartphones, but I’m still wondering if that is another manifestation of technology in search of a problem. After the show I did hear from Applied Global Technologies that is focused on linking room-based systems behind the firewall to more casual contacts (e.g. students, sales prospects, etc.) equipped with smartphones, tablets, or laptops- that could be an interesting opportunity.
The big message that came through at Enterprise Connect was that the UC and IP PBX vendors may be interested in mobility, but “mobility” doesn’t seem to be interested in them. I conducted a number of workshops and panels dealing with everything from mobile policy development, to bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives, and the evolving role of smartphones and tablets. In some of those sessions I asked for a show of hands to identify how many in the audience were actually using any of the UC mobile clients like Cisco Jabber, Microsoft Lync Mobile, Avaya oneX, and the rest. At a quick glance it looked like about 20- to 25-% of the audience raised their hands, but when I asked the vendor reps to put their hands down, I was more like three to five actual users. When I asked how many had more than 25% of their mobile users working with these tools, the all of the remaining hands disappeared.
I also asked a number of vendors about the take rates they’re seeing on mobile UC and they all responded by telling me how many downloads they’ve had. After pointing out that “downloads” were a meaningless statistic, I asked if they could tell when someone opened or used the application. The answer was a universal “No”, which means that they either have no interest in making these products successful or have trouble dealing with the ugly realities of the situation. If they can’t even think to include capabilities in their mobile clients that allow them to measure use, the UC and IP PBX vendors are destined to remain stranded in the minor leagues when it comes to mobility.
Another reason for the slow adoption may be the random grab bag of mobile features being offered. I tried to do a survey of the various vendors’ booth to get a read on what they had and quickly found that I was getting random scraps of disjointed information. So I put together a list of questions to organize my approach and made a second pass focusing on key features like presence, directory and call log integration, location-based capabilities, and the like. What amazed me was the differences between the features offered on the various mobile operating systems, Apple iOS, Android, and BlackBerry; there wasn’t too much talk about Windows Phone except at the Microsoft booth.
Given the more open nature of the development environment, I was expecting to find a richer feature set among the Android deployments, but what I found instead was a totally random outcome. Looking at my lists of Y’s and N’s (“Yes’s and No’s”) there seemed to be no recognizable patter. Not surprisingly, nobody had a brochure or fact sheet that could provide an organized answer as to what features work on what platforms. I guess if your product features are all over the lot, writing it down clearly would only make a bad situation that much more obvious.
One glaring deficiency in many of the offerings was a lack of secure Wi-Fi calling over public hot spots. It is no secret that mobile costs have been spiraling out of control and one of the strategies to curtail that is to shift some portion of the mobile voice calling onto Wi-Fi networks. While that is a no-brainer with corporate Wi-Fi networks that can have quality of service with 802.11e/Wi-Fi Multi-Media and excellent security with 802.11i/WP2 encryption, the same cannot be said of public hot spots. While the lack of QoS could impact the quality of VoIP calls in high-traffic hot spots, you need some form of encryption, either secure RTP (SRTP) or a VPN connection or the transmissions are susceptible to eavesdropping.
There was however, one glimmer of hope. Oyvind Kaldestad, VP of IT at international translation services firm Lionbridge joined me on a panel called “Putting Mobility To Work- User Case Studies in Mobility”, and spoke glowingly about his company’s use of Microsoft Lync Mobile; he made a similar testimonial in an Analyst’s Roundtable hosted by Microsoft. Interestingly, Mr. Kaldestad had the greatest praise for the Lync Mobile implementation on Windows Phone. The feature that he and his users prized most highly was the ability to join a conference with a single click, a very handy capability when driving.
The SI and VAR challenge with mobility is that the big money is in mobile devices and services, and that part of the business is dominated by the mobile operators. That means that VARs and Sis will need to look for other avenues where they can provide value in the mobile ecosystem.
Clearly, Wi-Fi is one significant growth area, and with the move to higher capacity radio links with 802.11n and 802.11ac, it appears the ongoing refresh will continue. Mobile device management (MDM) continues to be a hot topic and a recent survey by Information Week Analytics found that while only 25% of respondents have MDM systems in place to day, another 31% plan to add them within the next 24-months. MDM supplier AirWatch was on the exhibit floor at Enterprise Connect for the first time.
The biggest challenge will be to demonstrate value for the mobile products the UC and IP PBX vendors have to offer. VARs and SIs need to understand what enterprise users need in the way of mobility and develop use cases that stress the potential savings to be gained along with the convenience of features like click to join. Meantime, the vendors will keep talking about mobility regardless of whether they have anything to say.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
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