Enterprise IT departments need to consider unified communications a primary criterion for deciding what employee-owned mobile devices will be allowed access to corporate resources.
Several years ago, I was talking to a guy over at Cisco Systems who
introduced me to his concept of unified communications disintermediation,
referring to a down-the-road ideal UC capability that utilizes presence and
location information, and combines it with a built-in understanding of the
capabilities of every network-attached communications device in the vicinity to
always be able to use the best of what is around. In other words, the UC system
would always direct a communications session to utilize the best screen, the
best speakers and microphone, and the best input channel that the user has at his
or her disposal on the spot and in the moment.
Now, I've always taken the term disintermediation to mean something along
the lines of "removing the middle man," so I guess in this particular
case the middle man would be the user interaction and decision making needed to
pick the right device and the right medium.
From an IT perspective, my company is far from adopting UC at the corporate
or IT level. But we did make the leap to VOIP (voice over IP) in 2009, which
has opened up a range of capabilities that were not possible with our previous
TDM (time-division multiplexing) system. My favorite of the system's limited
features is the cell phone twinning, allowing me to ring every incoming call
through to both my desk phone and my cell phone, so I can take calls while I am
out without giving away my personal cell phone number for business purposes.
The thing that drives me nuts about this feature is the lack of presence
information, specifically when I am in the office. If I am sitting at my desk,
every time the desk phone rings, a few beats after I pick up and start talking,
my cell phone starts blaring about the incoming call. I don't want to disable
the twin rule during work hours as I frequently go back and forth to the lab,
nor do I want to remember to put the cell on vibrate every time. So I live with
the irritating interruption.
UC disintermediation would absolutely resolve my problems and open up a lot
of avenues for better using the resources I have my disposal, but I wonder if
the newfound propensity for some enterprises to allow and support employee-owned
devices will hamstring the possibility of disintermediation along with other
kinds of UC features.
I've seen very few applications or communications systems trying to do this
kind of deterministic location awareness. Enterprise UC platforms, like
Microsoft, Avaya, IBM and Cisco, will
continue to add greater UC functionality to mobile devices. However, given the
growing fragmentation of the mobile smartphone market, upon which platforms
they will plant their flags remains to be seen.
On each mobile platform, development capabilities are evolving quickly, as
are the rules governing which types of applications will be developed. UC
developers may look at iPhone's new background APIs and developer agreements
and decide that the capabilities aren't up to their vision for UC, and decide
to postpone development until this changes again down the road. Or they may
look at Android's fragmented capabilities between OS versions shipping today
and decide to avoid the platform until the product set extends across all
iterations shipping at one time.
Typically, enterprises grant access to employee-owned
devices based on the answers to a core set of questions that typically revolve
around e-mail, PIM functionality and security. However, enterprises need to
expand the scope of their questions to encompass UC capabilities as well, and
to get a clearer sense of the mobile road maps for their UC providers and interoperable
partners. In this way, enterprises can help ensure that decisions made today
for reasons of cost savings and compatibility with old-guard applications and
features don't affect the ability to adopt the applications of tomorrow.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.