Make Unified Communications a Mobile Priority

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.