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For True UC, Remember Smartphones

IT's been pushing UC and mobility initiatives on separate tracks. But if either is to realize its full potential, CIOs must make integration a priority.

On their own, both unified communications and mobilization have the potential to revolutionize communications. Employees want the same capabilities on their smartphones and tablets as they have on their desk phones and laptops, and from a productivity standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world for IT to accommodate them. So why do most analysts peg mobile UC adoption at less than 10%?

The problem is twofold. First, enterprise adoption of UC has been slow and haphazard; respondents to our most recent InformationWeek Analytics Unified Computing Survey blame this on everything from a lack of employee engagement to aging infrastructures that limit their ability to guarantee consistent quality. Many companies, facing tough budget choices, are still limiting their efforts to IM/chat and voice over IP. Second, there's a systemic integration gap between mobility and almost everything else that goes on in IT. Smartphones are everywhere and tablets are gaining, but we're behind on security, application development, and management, not just UC.

Vendors aren't much help, either. While UC is being driven by enterprise software and hardware companies, mobility is dominated by the consumer market and handset and mobile software vendors. As such, efforts to merge the two have to be driven by CIOs. You're just not going to find sexy mobile UC applications at the iTunes App Store.

For IT, even as employees are knocking your door down looking for support to extend beyond industry-standard BlackBerrys to iPhones and Android smartphones and tablets, the mobile UC tools from the likes of Avaya, Cisco, and Microsoft that could make integration easier haven't been widely adopted. Sure, the clients are included at no cost with the vendors' packaged licensing options, but in many cases, you're getting what you paid for. Their capabilities are simply not as well thought out or compelling as the ones employees have natively on their devices, because mobility buyers are pursuing initiatives to boost productivity that are independent of UC. Push e-mail, pioneered by BlackBerry, has now become standard on smartphones, so secure interfaces to platforms like Microsoft Exchange are just expected. With core functions like e-mail, text, contact, and calendar synchronization, even the ability to join a conference with a single click, supported through virtually any smartphone platform, why would users willingly install other clients, especially on their own devices?

You have to sell this. Harness the enthusiasm for extending rich communications capabilities to push for a revitalized--and this time truly unified--fixed-mobile integration program. Employees should (and want to) be free to move transparently and securely among all their communications channels. Most important, they should be able to begin a communications thread on one device and pick it up later on another. Contacts, with their presence status, should be visible on the mobile device, and the employee's presence (including the fact that he's mobile) should be visible to contacts. Existing mobile apps give users the ability to synchronize e-mail, contacts, and calendar entries between desktop and mobile devices, but we should also empower users to integrate call logs and text chats. For example, if the CFO makes or receives a call on her desktop, she should be able to see it on her smartphone and vice versa.

Further, we should welcome some of the leading-edge capabilities from the consumer market into our enterprise mobility programs. Probably the single biggest gap is in capitalizing on location information--consumer services from Foursquare, Facebook, and their ilk are leaving enterprise offerings in the dust. But think of the value of location-based presence status updates. Today, UC presence engines can change a user's status based on calendar entries, schedules, and other factors. Most can recognize when someone is engaged in a wired network call. And virtually every cell phone has location capability built in. Combine them--with proper privacy controls--and we can know where a user is, and based on that, automatically change his presence status.

Yes, it sounds ambitious. But fail to encompass all these channels, and the value of your efforts drops off sharply.

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