UC and the Mobile Future: No Optimal Management Solutions Yet

Since Unified Communications applications and technology include mobility, it’s important to keep abreast of trends that can impact your current or future use of mobile UC applications.   I attended  Mobile Enterprise Magazine’s Executive Summit earlier this month (see www.mobileenterprisemag.com).   During the conference, several important trends were discussed.  Each of the trends highlighted in this posting pose significant management challenges:

1.       In the world of 4G, devices will have short shelf-lives, as short as 6 months.  For companies which can take much longer to test new, develop/customize and deploy mobile devices and applications, this is extremely unwelcome news.  If a new device has a considerably shorter shelf life than your processes are able to support, how will this impact your company’s device, applications deployment and customer support plans?  What will you allow/disallow as far as integration into UC applications, and how will you decide?  What could rapid device turnover do to your budget?  For mission-critical applications, will you seek out solutions that bundle the price of equipment into the service contract?  Will your company seek to reduce possible risk by using cloud-based services, or managed services that bundle the mobile device into the service contract?   Will you implement mobility device management solutions to better track your company’s mobile assets? 

2.       One of the big concerns facing customers is the 4G pricing model.  Carriers like Verizon Wireless have made it plain they expect 4G will provide more revenue (ARPU) than 3G did.  It’s just not yet clear how additional revenue will be extracted from customers.  Thus it’s not too soon to consider how you’ll ensure that the applications your company relies upon make the best use of mobile networks as possible – that they aren’t overly chatty or are bandwidth hogs.  How could this more expensive reality affect your planned use of key UC features like Presence (which is constantly updated) or applications that rely on Location (something else that can require many updates)?  What does this imply for your choice of devices or O/S?  RIM was designed to use bandwidth sparingly, while by comparison, the iPhone can be a bandwidth bandit, and the Android can be an absolute hog (remember, it’s a cloud-based O/S). 

3.       For general business applications, some prognosticators think IL devices will supplant CL devices.  In fact, in many businesses today, there are more employees who expense all or apportion of their mobile services fees (IL) than there are employees who use direct-company contracted and paid mobile devices and services (CL).  IL devices are simpler to administer than CL devices.  IL devices are a financial expense, CL devices are a corporate asset. I think one of the biggest drivers toward IL is employee device choice- in theory, an employee could use any smartphone.  But I think in reality this could be quite limited – because as discussed below, the hard facts (and associated expense) of application and device support do not go away in an IL world.  Regardless, special-purposes devices will remain CL devices for the forseeable future.   But for companies to successfully standardize on an IL framework, they’ll need to consider the following:

a.       Policy.  These issues don’t go away by moving to IL.  If employees use smartphones, major policies must still be decided, because IL devices become, in effect, corporate assets.  For instance, what applications and data are various types of employees privy to?  How much will each class of employee be reimbursed?

b.      Distribution.  In this world, should your company allow any and all smartphones?  I think a number of companies will limit choice even in an IL world – to specific devices and/or O/Ss that can support company policies, or that internal processes and personnel are trained to support (or alternatively, that are supported by external specialists).    See my next point.

c.       Application performance.  As discussed briefly in the 4G pricing section, not all device operating systems are optimally suited to day’s wireless world.  That’s likely to continue into the future-especially since many 4G users will be using both 4G and 3G services for the next several years.  We already know that different devices that use the same application can deliver a different user experience.  As discussed, they consume bandwidth in different ways, and at different rates.  Even if your company doesnot reimburse an employee for data services, how will you answer employee questions, and educate employees about these issues?

d.      Enforcement.  How will security policies be enforced, how will data be destroyed in the event the device is lost or stolen, or the employee leaves the company?

 

In short, given the likely evolution of services and devices in the U.S., I understand why some people conclude that a consumer-like (IL) model will dominate the business environment.  In theory, it removes the expense of the short device shelf-life from a company’s shoulders, and it can allow for greater freedom of device choice.  But many significant tradeoffs and management challenges remain, so I’m not convinced that our industry has yet identified an optimal solution. The good news is that there is time for better alternatives to come along.

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