Much has been said about unified communications (UC) initiatives in terms of platforms, software collaboration and integrations with IP telephony systems. However, mobility seems to be the missing link in most discussions about UC, which always seem to assume that you are at a fixed workstation. Most of the current solutions still miss the requirement for mobile devices to integrate with the rest of the organization.
UC means simplifying the ways of communicating and collaborating by having fewer tools and interfaces to manage. A large portion of employees in the enterprise environment spend at least some of their time out of the office. It is fair to expect that most of the benefits proposed by the UC solutions will only be achieved over mobile devices.
Mobile devices are evolving and becoming as powerful as some PCs. Now they can manage applications in a similar way as some notebooks. This is increasingly allowing their usage for multi-communications streams, including voice, email and data applications. At the same time, mobile networks are getting faster and more ubiquitous. This environment creates the right conditions for a closer integration of all different means of communications into a single and unified suite.
The UC benefit for mobile users will come from the greater communication flexibility and efficiency. Users on the move will be able to complete time-sensitive tasks that involve several people, either inside or outside of an enterprise organization. Contacts will be accessible at anytime, anywhere, by the most efficient communication channel. In addition, the next step in UC will also link critical business applications, offering more capability to mobile users.
However, there is a long way to go and several challenges, both for the enterprises themselves and mobile users, to having a real unified mobile office. Handsets still have a lot of limitations and the business cases around efficiency improvement are difficult to demonstrate.
Presence information will be crucial for mobile enterprise users - proper management of their presence status is crucial to define the most effective ways of communicating over the time.
Current mobile devices, however, can't identify external situations and change user state accordingly. In most cases it is up to the users to define and change their availability and preferred contact modes. Without a proper user educational process, it may be hard for some people to remember to change their status every time he is facing a different condition. Calendar integration, and 'presence by observation' approaches that automatically infer from passive observation of the user, will help. But end-users will still have to give their inputs. In addition, presence adoption will face cultural issues and privacy concerns, as presence virtually follows users and makes them visible wherever they are.
From a company's point of view, the biggest challenge is to define the business case. As most of the benefits are difficult to measure, enterprises have to understand how UC will improve their processes and affect business performance. It is important to recognize that companies have different cultures, business characteristics and different levels of mobility. In addition, some organizations are more social than others. To what extent better communication and collaboration proposed by UC will impact an organization will depend on these differences.
Currently there is no single vendor in the market able to offer complete end-to-end UC solutions, and this is even truer when mobility is added.