Devices matter. At first glance, people may think of devices as a commodity – just “plug and play”. Today’s mobile devices, particularly the smartphone may be limited by the provider, the applications available, the operating system, the number of features based upon an IT policy, or even compatibility and coverage, etc.
What devices does the mobile professional really need to experience the benefits of unified communications (UC)?
Without a doubt, the laptop is the best device to recreate an office work environment in a mobile world. Bar none, it is the best device for creating, editing, publishing, and even personal computing for an employee in the home office or one traveling on business. What makes this device so useful is the large reading screen, keyboard and on-the-go computing power for financial spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, videos, web conferencing, etc. The laptop also reigns as the best device to take advantage of cloud computing. While the VoIP desktop phone may be superior in audio and video quality, the laptop still excels in functionality, mobility, and high-speed access, especially with 4G.
Arguably the smartphone is the sweet spot and the most personal device for business communication. Interestingly though is that the smartphone of choice may not be the traditional BlackBerry. In the latest survey by Mary Meeker on Internet Trends , the Android and iPhone are growing faster than the BlackBerry. A big part of this is being driven by the change in the customer base. Initially, enterprises issued smartphones to its top executives for business use. Today, smartphones are more ubiquitous throughout an organization, and enterprises are providing smartphones to many user groups like marketing, sales, finance, etc.
According to a report by Frost & Sullivan, the profile of many professional business users is changing and trending toward the behavior of a “Prosumer”. This is the employee/executive who uses his/her phone both as a professional and consumer. Most significant is that the Prosumer prefers using a single device for both their personal and business communication. What initially developed for the business executive is now the device of choice too, for the soccer mom, the dentist, the college student. Smartphones, for both the business professional and Prosumer are allowing employees access and use of select business UC applications that help make the smartphone a good mobile extension of business communications. And, the Prosumer can stay connected to his social networks, blog feeds etc. This is especially important for the enterprise today as companies see social media as a key strategic focus and an integral part of their business plans.
Not only is the profile of the smartphone user changing, so are the policies of IT. When smartphones were limited to a few executives, it was simple for IT to manage a single device for a small group of employees. Now that smartphones and laptops are the new normal for a majority of enterprise employees, movement toward consumer-liable plans, cloud computing, and SaaS (software-as-a-service) are growing IT trends. While the laptop reigns as the best device for mobile business productivity (access, create and edit data), the smartphone is essential for its real time, simple communication (voice, email, text, and monitoring).
The VoIP-based Business Phone
While we love our smartphones, the VoIP-based business communication device or “work” phone, is the device that enables fully integrated voice/communication access into an enterprise’s business communication system. Here is where we can best see the power of unified communications come to life. As we discovered in the Internet Trends survey, voice quality is key, and the business phone provides the highest voice quality for the employee. The phones themselves are created especially for the purpose of providing an exceptional interactive and communication experience and the capabilities extend beyond traditional voice to include video and media.
Still, there is no device panacea. Take Adobe for example. Adobe announced it will no longer provide Apple’s mobile handset to its 8,000 employees. This is because Apple has no interest in Flash for its iProducts, and Adobe wants its employees to use the technology it builds. This is an example of limited applications. Another example of limitations is the carrier exclusivity of the iPhone. As enterprises revisit their device strategy, such limitations will need to be considered.
While UC solutions are taking a prominent place within the enterprise as an enabler of communication and collaboration, it is important to recognize that unified communications does not reduce the number of communication devices on which we depend. That may be okay as each one has it's purpose. What's important is that UC is about making the devices work better together, and creating a more productive work environment where ever that may be.
In my next blog I will explore the latest trends in business-class smartphones and the UC capabilities on these devices.