Mobile UC&C Is Improving But It’s Still a Struggle
I spent a good deal of time during the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando checking out the various mobile UC clients offered by the UC&C vendors, and to my surprise there are some striking differences to be seen. While I didn’t get to all of them, I did spend time with Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, Siemens, ShoreTel, Mitel, 8x8, Broadsoft, Thinking Phone Networks, and GENBAND, so I got a pretty broad cross-section of the space.
Clearly what’s not happening is widespread user adoption. In my Deep Dive session on Managing Mobility in a BYOD World, I did my regular show-of-hands survey to get a rough gauge of how many organizations are actually making use of these mobile UC products. In a room with about 100 attendees I found two users, both of whom reported that adoption was fairly light and typically confined to IT.
While some of the products I looked at were fairly rudimentary, others had incorporated some fairly neat features that you would think would attract users. Across the board vendors are offering a selection of mobile UC offerings. A good example is Avaya who is currently shipping three or four mobile options. They have their legacy oneX client that runs on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Symbian devices and focuses primarily on voice, presence enabled directory, and visual voicemail. Then they have the Scopia Mobile client acquired with RADVision that offers video teleconferencing and content sharing. Finally there’s the all-encompassing Flare Experience, which runs on iOS and Avaya’s own desktop video device.
Normally having a grab bag of options is not a strength, however even the earlier options like oneX link fairly seamlessly to other applications. Clicking on a calendar reminder in oneX launches the collaboration app. Clicking on the email icon in Flare launches the email app.
The big obstacle with all of these mobile UC&C offerings is that they function as separate apps the user has to go to engage their business communications, and most see the additional features as not worth the bother. Users prefer their business communications to be as simple and unencumbered as the personal communications capabilities of their smartphones, and use those native capabilities for both business and personal communications.
Some years ago there was a focus on the mobile UC&C app’s ability to keep the mobile number private by routing all inbound and outbound mobile calls through the PBX, but simultaneous ring or preferred device (i.e. “call forwarding”) allows users to be reached on their mobile devices when they are out of the office. Outbound mobile calls would be delivered with the user’s desk phone number as the caller ID, but the risk of an employee’s mobile number leaking out to business contacts is generally not seen as a major issue. In fact, many salespeople routinely give out their mobile numbers to show customers that they want to be available should they have any problems.
The one element that may change the adoption of mobile UC is the tablet. Tablets don’t have a cell phone capability, so they don’t have a native dialer like a smartphone. In effect, the lack of a dialer is the great equalizer, as any real time communications on the tablet would require going to some app or other. While some see the tablet as the new “office phone,” my take is that the tablet will be used to manage email, text, and calendar functions, participate in videos and collaboration sessions, but when it’s time to make a call the user will check the party’s availability on the table but then have the actual call routed to their desk phone or smartphone.
The most interesting twist on the mobile story came during Cisco’s keynote, where Rob Lloyd, President for Development and Sales, described his company’s Location Analytics capability based on the Mobility Services Engine. The technology can track the path shoppers take through a store and recognize where they stop using the Wi-Fi capability in their phones. Apple is apparently looking in the same direction having plunked down $20 million to acquire indoor location firm WifiSLAM.
As Mr. Lloyd pointed out in his talk, location technology can have tremendous applications in retail, if retailers go about it in the right way. The basic capability Cisco offers is passive monitoring of customers’ movements through the store that can be analyzed to optimize product and promotion placements and possibly to direct sales staff to areas where customers are lingering.
The next step up from that would be the ability to offer customers the option of downloading an app that would provide a store directory, promotions, as well as a way to reach on-site or off-site store personnel. Mobile marketing is still relatively young, and companies are still learning what’s “appropriate” in tapping into users’ equipped smartphones. The general consensus (at least for now) is that these capabilities need to be “opt-in,” and we’ll have to see how many customers will want to be carting around apps for stores they rarely visit.
So while UC&C vendors continue to struggle to gain relevance in the mobile space, they might look to things like location to get them into the game. I’ve been writing about location-aware presence for years, but the only two UC&C vendors I’ve seen making any use of it are ShoreTel and Mitel. Maybe it’s time the UC&C community start to do more than just talk about the importance of mobility and get themselves into the game.