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Can ShoreTel Be Everyone's Mobility Solution?

There are a growing number of stories to be told about management frameworks in the corporate mobile device space. Some are about one-trick ponies tied to limited device types or PBXes, while others describe solutions that are so flush with functionality that you have to study them for a while to fully appreciate what they offer. ShoreTel Mobility is one of those impressive stories that may take some review to fully appreciate.

ShoreTel has been around since 1996, maturing as the VoIP world also grew up. Last year, ShoreTel bought Agito Networks to expand the company’s capabilities as mobile devices continue to dominate ever more facets of business communications. I knew Agito as the folks who magically made cell calls seamlessly transition to the WLAN-based VoIP system (and back) as users roamed between the two environments, but that carry-over is just part of what ShoreTel Mobility now offers.

As workforces go mobile, desk phones give way to smartphones and PCs get marginalized by powerful tablets, options for (and requirements of) unified communications are certainly changing. Though I’m not the first to quote him, ShoreTel’s Pej Roshan has coined a phrase that defines the capabilities that modern mobile devices enable in a rapidly changing business world: "Work is what you do, not where you go." With the right solution, "out of office" messages become a thing of the past as your office is always with you and your physical location becomes largely irrelevant to many of those with whom you interact. Achieving this uber-mobility is ShoreTel Mobility’s charge.

In our conversation, Roshan made it clear that ShoreTel Mobility is not another mobile device management (MDM) solution, nor is it another closed unified messaging system that has tight requirements that all endpoints come from the same vendor. What Mobility does do is capitalize on the BYOD wave that is sweeping the business world, leveraging the fact that many employees are more than happy to provide their own endpoint if the employer is willing to find a way to make it work with the corporate communications system. While this trend allows the boss to mobilize users at less cost to the company, doing it right isn’t always simple.

On the user end, ShoreTel Mobility extends desk phone features in a way that tightly integrates into the device UI like no other that I am aware of. One differentiator is that Mobility blends into the native phone environment, yet personal and enterprise operations are partitioned from each other under the hood where users can’t see. When an end device needs to access the corporate environment, a secure application-layer tunnel provides automatic connectivity, and only ShoreTel-specific apps are encrypted. The rest of the device is left unbothered, even when administrative disabling of the device by the corporate mother ship is required. With Mobility, a BYOD device has personal and business personas that are automatically invoked as appropriate with no user action required.

To deliver native integration with each phone (no launching of app to place business calls, etc.), ShoreTel specifically develops Mobility for each specific device it supports. Along with iDevices, several models of Android are currently compatible, as are BlackBerry Torch 9800 and Bold 9700/9780. ShoreTel tries to be device-compatible within 90 days of market-leading model releases, as each device is its own study in drivers, screen resolution, audio engines and telephony APIs.

On the PBX side, Mobility supports Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and a number of others. For those in need of unified communications designed specifically for an increasingly complicated mix of mobile devices matched with recent and not-so-new PBXes, the ShoreTel Mobility story is worth hearing.

At the time of publication, ShoreTel is not a client of and has no business relationship with Lee Badman.