Unified Communications

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Will Mobile Drive or Replace UC?

UC vendors must create a more integrated experience on mobile devices to capture the ease of use and flexibility that users demand on smartphones and tablets—and to counter native capabilities that could make UC less relevant.

Smartphones and tablets are an ideal platform for unified communications. Indeed, UC features like presence, multimodal communications and easy access to collaboration capabilities are more important to mobile users than to deskbound workers. However, something is getting lost along the way. All the UC and IP PBX vendors have introduced mobile clients for iOS and Android, and in some cases for Windows Phone and BlackBerry platforms, but the truth is they rarely get used. In part it's because of limitations imposed by mobile vendors, and in part because the devices' native capabilities mimic many UC features.

So if we have these mobile UC clients, why isn't anyone using them? Having worked with countless clients on these initiatives, the answer turns out to simple: Users hate them! The problem is it's difficult to develop a mobile client that can deliver the type of engaging experience the user expects. The APIs for the different mobile operating systems allow access to different sets of capabilities, which can throw up roadblocks for UC development teams. As a general rule, iOS is the most restrictive environment because Apple wants to control the user interface--no surprise there.

As a result, the UC and IP PBX manufacturers have to develop a special client the user must open to place business calls. While the mobile UC client looks more or less like the native client on the phone, it means the user has to use a different procedure to make business calls than they use to make personal calls. It gets worse from there.

To provide in-call features such as call transfer, or to present the user's desk phone number rather than the mobile number for caller ID, all business calls have to be routed through the IP PBX or UC system. So when the user goes to place a business call, the UC or IP PBX system actually calls the user back on the mobile number. In most cases the user then has to manually answer that call, and then the system places an outgoing call to the other party. That's right--you have to answer the call you just made. Confusing, no?

In addition to turning the basic process of placing a call on its ear, every mobile call ties up two trunk connections on the PBX or UC system: one for the call to the mobile and one for the connection to the called party. Even though the call has nothing to do with the PBX, you need two trunks to support it. This in-and-out configuration is referred to as "hairpinning."

The Good Stuff

While the procedure for business calls can be frustrating, there are very useful features you can get from a mobile UC client. As noted, you can keep your mobile number private and publish only your desk number. In a BYOD world where employees often use personal devices for work, the separation of personal and business numbers may be welcome. Also, the client provides access to the corporate telephone directory, and in many cases can provide colleagues' presence status.

However, UC providers face competition from native capabilities of today's mobile devices. For instance, from the native directory we can either call, text or email a colleague; in some cases, we can even start a video chat. If we get a meeting invite, it goes directly into the device's calendar and we can join with a single click. All of this comes standard out-of-the-box with a user interface integrated into the phone.

The upside is that users do like what UC can deliver--they just don't call it "UC". Users also love their mobile devices and grow more dependent on them every day. These facts represent an opportunity that UC vendors can and should take advantage of. Otherwise, users could well be getting their UC from Apple and Android.

Michael Finneran is an independent consultant and industry analyst.

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/2/2013 | 5:54:31 PM
re: Will Mobile Drive or Replace UC?
I think Bryan Martin is right when he says "More than 50% of our business customers subscribe to our mobile service offerings." I can say with my experience a lot more people are using mobile apps now than ever and I can only see growth from here on. I work with and am a client of Broadconnect and we use the scopia app on our iPad minis & my nexus4 I know of a lot of people who use scopia on their mobile smartphones.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/21/2012 | 5:08:48 PM
re: Will Mobile Drive or Replace UC?
This article is a great example of why the BYOD movement to utilize smart phones and tablets in the workplace will eventually drive all business communications to a cloud-based services architecture.

First, GǣhairpinningGǥ and trunk utilization become a thing of the past, on-premise world. It is true that these old on-premise hardware solutions have to tie up two GǣtrunkGǥ lines to place or receive one business call to a mobile device (typically through a GǣMobility RouterGǥ that is piggy-backed onto the on-premise PBX). In a cloud-based architecture, like 8x8Gs Virtual Office service and accompanying 8x8 Virtual Office app, an outbound business call originated from the mobile device is sent directly from that device to our data center over the Internet (via any Internet connection), and the call is then placed directly from there to its destination. No enterprise network or GǣtrunkGǥ resources are used (because none exist in a true cloud-based communications solution). There is only an Internet connection (public, private, mobile, etc.). We are agnostic to the connection type.

Second, all of our apps effectively run in the background on both IOS and Android platforms and utilize a userGs existing address book/contacts lists and dialing preferences on these devices. It is true that to originate a business call, a user has to flip over to our dialer, but this is no different than flipping over to the Apple dialpad or contact book to place a regular (cellular) outbound call. And any inbound call will ring your mobile phone in any app with a distinctive ring that you can choose to answer, forward or ignore.

Finally, I would disagree that our mobile apps Gǣrarely get usedGǥ G in fact, they are one of our most popular features and we sport a 4+ app rating in iTunes. More than 50% of our business customers subscribe to our mobile service offerings. Beyond placing and receiving calls, the presence capabilities incorporated into our on-phone corporate directory functions are the most popular feature used. As video and HD voice conferencing become commonplace business activities, I expect that we will see increased usage of these capabilities in these apps, as well.

The cloud-based approach to business communications changes everything. It will even make your smart phone smarter!

Bryan Martin
CEO, 8x8, Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT)
Arthur Rosenberg
Arthur Rosenberg,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/20/2012 | 8:32:08 PM
re: Will Mobile Drive or Replace UC?

I certainly agree with your suggestion of not calling a service "UC" for end users/consumers, because it doesn't effectively describe what it does for them functionally. I tried to come up with a more suitable descriptor a couple of years ago, but "multi-modal communications" is too much of a mouthful for consumers to understand or even say.

Since mobile "smartphones" have rapidly become the primary means of exercising the benefits of UC (because they are multi-modal devices needed for mobile accessibility), I thought using the term "smart communications" would ring the right bell for end users. However, that label is already in use as the name of a leading telco in the Philippines.

My latest thought is to label the user perspective of UC as "Smart Contacts," which can cover all aspects of UC enablement for mobile or desktop endpoints. For details of what such UC enablement should functionally include, look for my blog at www.ucstrategies.com.

Users won't know and don't care where and how the technology does its job, as long as they see the proper results (User Experience) at their endpoint devices and service usage costs to them are reasonable. And they really want a single mobile, multi-modal device to handle all their business, job, and personal inbound/outbound contacts in a secure, manageable, and multi-persona (role identity) way.

Inbound and outbound communications each have their own user interface requirements, depending upon the endpoint device used, media used (voice, text, video,etc.) and whether it is a person-to-person or an automated, online application (self-service) contact. We still need interoperability standardization of IP communications to make all that happen across consumer services and organizational operations.
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