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Mobilizing Unified Communications

Taking FMC to the next level

With our dynamic business environment and fluid business models, enterprise communications is becoming increasingly focused on mobility. The associates and managers who are key to supporting customers, resolving production problems, and addressing other critical business tasks can rarely be found at their desks. In spite of this, organizations are under pressure to improve productivity while remaining responsive to customer demands. Those dual goals of responsiveness and productivity have given rise to demands for more functional and effective mobile communications.

Mobility is not a "one size fits all" endeavor. Different users require different capabilities and will need different degrees of mobility. Some users roam only within the building or campus, while others might spend the majority of their time outside the office. That wide area roaming might extend across the city, the country, or around the globe. While initial mobile solutions focused solely on voice access, the development of unified communications has increased the pressure to extend those enhanced communications capabilities to mobile users as well.

In selecting a mobile solution today it is essential that organizations look for suppliers with the widest range of capabilities. That will allow enterprises to provide the feature set required by each user and to deliver those mobile capabilities in the most cost-effective fashion.

Business Goals for Mobile Unified Communications
The earliest enterprise mobility solutions looked solely at delivering voice calls to mobile users, and typically did so with non-integrated cellular services. That approach left each user with two numbers, their office number and their cellular number, making it difficult and inconvenient to reach them. Along with improving voice accessibility, email, text messaging, and applications access have now been added to that list of required mobile services. The biggest development in enterprise networks is presence-capable unified communications (UC) systems. These solutions will allow users to see their correspondents' availability status (in/out of office, on the phone, in a meeting, etc.) in real time and establish voice calls, send emails or text messages or launch multi-point conferences through a simple, intuitive user interface. Increasingly users are looking to have this same type of functional always-on communications extended to their mobile devices.

Before embarking on a mobile product selection, it's important to get a clear understanding of the potential implementations and the business goals the solution will support. High on that list of goals would be:

  • Accessibility: A mobile UC capability can make all of the organization's key personnel available immediately via one number regardless of whether they are at their desks, down the hall, or on another continent.
  • Productivity: The integrated UC dashboard allows mobile users to better manage their time, contacts, and communications. Further, all of their voice and email messages can be consolidated in a single mailbox from which they could reply by voice, text, email, or conference call.
  • Presence: With presence, mobile users can determine in real time which resources are available for what types of communications, while allowing individual users the ability to manage and control their availability.
  • Cost Savings: Research estimates that anywhere from 40% to 60% of cellular calls are placed while the user is within a company facility. Shifting those calls onto wireless LAN facilities can have a major impact on cellular costs.
  • Security and Control: Correctly implemented, mobile UC also gives organizations the ability to control their communications access by ensuring that all incoming calls can be routed through a business number. Furthermore, it is critically important that these capabilities be extended to remote users without jeopardizing the security of sensitive corporate information.

Reviewing the Options
Mobile requirements vary with regard to range as well as functionality. Any mobile solution will involve some type of wireless network, and the two primary options are cellular and wireless LAN; as time goes on, other options such as WiMAX may be added to that list as well. Cellular service is available nationwide, and with the right service and equipment, worldwide. However, organizations are already seeing their cellular charges skyrocket, and cellular coverage may not be optimal in indoor environments. The other option is to route calls over a wireless LAN that entails no service charges. WLAN voice technology has now developed to the point where it can be as secure and reliable as wired telephone service.

The key to a successful mobile solution will be to understand the service and mobility requirements of the various user groups and determine how to provide those capabilities in the most functional and cost-effective fashion. As we analyze mobility requirements, we will typically find a range or user profiles with different mobility and application needs. IT support, production, facilities maintenance, and security personnel may be highly mobile, but only within the facility or campus. Providing voice, email, and applications access to those users represent an excellent potential for WLAN access. That option assumes the wireless LAN has the required capacity and can support the necessary security, quality of service, and battery conservation features.

There are also users such as field sales and service who will divide their time between their office, remote offices, and customer locations. Those employees must be continuously accessible for voice, email, and data access, so a dual mode Wi-Fi/cellular solution might be the perfect fit. Fully automated solutions can detect when users are available over a WLAN, and will automatically route inbound and outbound calls via that network, eliminating unnecessary cellular charges. State-of-the-art solutions can transparently handoff a connection from the WLAN to the cellular network when the user leaves the facility.

Users who spends a large portion of their time on the road or who work in facilities that do not have a voice-capable WLAN will likely have to depend primarily on cellular connectivity for their mobility. However, that cellular service can now be integrated with the wired telephone system. Using a feature called Simultaneous Ring, the user's cell phone number can be stored in the PBX along with their office phone. When a call is received, the PBX can ring the desk phone and the cell phone simultaneously, and the user can answer the call on either. Enhanced solutions can build on that capability by providing a software client that will allow mobile users to access to presence-based directory, visual voicemail (i.e., the ability to view voice message alerts on the mobile device's display), and access to PBX-type features such as hold, conference, and transfer. In some cases, these solutions can also reduce service costs as international cellular calls can be routed over wired network facilities.

Choosing a Partner
As organizations will need to support a variety of these configurations, the key to a successful mobile deployment will be to choose suppliers with the widest range of options. It is important to recognize that some suppliers will offer a range of mobility solutions, but on closer examine you find that they depend on a third-party technology partners and the level of integration varies from offering to offering. The ideal provider is one whose solutions have been developed with an eye toward a consistent look and feel regardless of whether the call is being carried over WLAN, cellular, or a combination of the two.

The ability to deliver the full range of integrated capabilities will become more and more important as presence, visual voicemail, and other productivity-enhancing UC capabilities are added to the mix. Business communication requirements are clearly shifting toward mobility, and enterprise buyers will need reliable partners to deliver the full complement of services to address the full range of business mobility requirements.

More Stories By Wayne Seifried

Wayne Seifried is director of Global Portfolio Marketing Enterprise Mobility at Siemens Communications, Inc.

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