IT needs to make mobile unified communications a priority

As more corporate workers rely on mobile devices, enterprises need to adopt mobile unified communications, which is easier to scale and manage than wired UC.

The need for safe, reliable, and easy-to-use communications tools has given rise to unified communications (UC), a strategy that integrates multiple communications modalities under a single management and security umbrella. The result is more effective communication, improved collaboration, and a boost to security and regulatory policies. Now that mobility is the primary networking vehicle for end users, it’s time for IT departments to make mobile unified communications (MUC) a priority.

The most important benefit of MUC is the ability of organizations to finally leave behind the uncontrolled, untracked mish-mash of consumer-centric, carrier, and third-party communications tools traditionally applied over the years. Communications are a critical organizational resource; MUC is a much easier vehicle to manage and scale, and MUC offers the visibility and control that’s essential to enterprise IT deployments. These advantages will enable MUC to become the dominant provisioning strategy and mechanism for organizational communications over the next five to 10 years.

What is mobile unified communications?

The “unified” part of MUC implies that all modalities available in contemporary organizational communications, along with associated analytics and reporting, are provisioned within a single management and security umbrella. Key required functionality includes:

  • Messaging. This is analogous to the common carrier-provisioned texting (SMS/EMS/MMS) services and similar public services (Facebook Messenger, Linkedin Messaging, etc.) and also includes instant messaging (IM) and chat services. The clear advantage for MUC here is in security and record-keeping; public services are clearly lacking in these dimensions.
  • E-Mail. E-Mail can and, in most cases, should be integrated into MUC for easy tracking of communications with outside parties, but it is fair to consider that MUC can – and likely will – replace e-mail for all intra-organization communications over time, with e-mail as we know it today reserved for lowest-common-denominator external communications.
  • Voice. Voice telephony (over IP) is a key core constituent function within UC and must include both one-to-one and conferencing (many-to-many) capabilities, and, of course, voicemail.
  • Files. All documents required by productivity applications, images (and fax if still required), streaming video, and recordings of conferencing (including video) must be retained and made easily searchable and accessible to authorized users. Media conversion between domains (for example, an automatically generated transcript of a voice conversation) is also a desirable feature. Also essential are backup, archiving, encryption, and support for any required regulatory and policy compliance (HIPAA, for example).
  • Management. As with most IT capabilities today, a console application must include policy definition, configuration, identity management, onboarding, workgroup definition and management (including implementing multiple and even overlapping ad hoc closed user groups as may be required), integrity management (via failover), and usage monitoring, including cost control for carrier communications services.

The addition of mobility to UC also introduces new considerations, as follows.

While desktop UC often centers on purpose-built desksets, most MUC implementations are based on apps running on Android and iOS. It’s therefore important to make sure that organizational BYOD policies, which specify the allowed device/mobile-OS pairs, also indicate the requirement for these apps. MUC brings location independence and dynamic mobility to UC, and MUC is based on pure IP – there’s really no need to use or even know the phone number of a given device. We even foresee the day when MUC motivates the sale of handsets with only a data plan, with all other communications services provisioned by MUC.

With the power and utility of mobile devices now equal to those of PCs, the envelope of MUC is becoming much larger via the functional roll-up of other workgroup-centric capabilities previously restricted to PCs and often implemented as point products. MUC’s key advantage here is the fluid flow of information across an improving degree of collaborative functionality essential to group productivity. Capabilities can include not only familiar group productivity applications such as document processing and spreadsheets but also shared calendars, project management capabilities, and presentations, including shared and multi-user “whiteboards” for sketching and annotating ideas in real time.

Some MUC implementations also include personal information management functions such as contacts and notes, essentially integrating all individual and group workflow within the MUC security and management framework. And some MUC implementations implement what is effectively private social media capabilities, although specific feature sets do vary widely.

While the modalities integrated by MUC evolved separately and can, of course, still be used as such, the central appeal of MUC is in the closed-user-group privacy, anytime/anywhere reachability (and temporally-delayed access as well), and management visibility essential to contemporary organizational communications. Depending upon a given organization’s particular CRM strategies, MUC may even add value in outbound telemarketing, customer service and support, and the availability of key staff anytime/anywhere a customer needs attention, as many of the above capabilities can be translated quite easily in many cases into customer-facing advantages.

MUC deployment options

There are three broad possibilities for MUC deployment:

  • Products. MUC products require no hardware beyond a server and mobile client devices. The server is often located on the organization’s premises, and can usually be hosted on a virtual machine, minimizing expense.
  • Cloud services. Increasingly, MUC is provisioned as a cloud-based service. The cloud approach simplifies deployment, scaling over time, and enhances reliability, often with a lower overall operating expense.

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