Our phones are getting smarter, helping us manage our e-mail and calendars, as well as enabling us to make and receive calls. The latest smart phones come with multiple gigabytes of memory and storage--most of which are probably underutilized for business purposes. For many busy executives, the BlackBerry is by far a more important communication tool than either the desk phone or the computer.
Yet, most of the talk about unified communications--technology that seeks to move voice, e-mail, instant messaging, telepresence and videoconferencing onto a common platform--has focused on a wired environment that includes a desktop PC, a desk phone, and perhaps a laptop and a Wi-Fi network. If we're going to truly unify the means by which employees communicate, we're going to have to bring mobile devices into the fold and think about how to make the cellular network behave as an extension of the enterprise network.
This is sometimes referred to as mobile unified communications (mobile UC), which in turn encompasses a related concept known as fixed mobile convergence. FMC includes a variety of schemes for making a mobile phone act as part of the corporate PBX, meaning that the mobile phone shares an extension and a common voice mailbox with the employee's desk phone. In some cases, it may mean that the desk phone goes away, and the mobile phone becomes the primary device for that phone extension.
FMC may also include the use of dual-band cell phones that can be programmed to take advantage of the corporate Wi-Fi network as an alternative to the cellular network. And there are phones designed specifically to operate in a voice over WLAN environment. Some enterprises may even deploy their own in-building cellular antennas to enhance mobile phone coverage within their walls.
These trends are in their infancy. However, convergence in this area has many dimensions: convergence of wired and wireless infrastructure, convergence of different types of wireless, convergence of voice and data, and so on. So it's possible to tackle the unification of some aspects of the mobile and wireless environment without insisting on an all-encompassing solution.
Still, the reason unified communications has emerged as a top issue for CIOs is that employees (including just about everyone from the CEO on down) are looking for technology tools that make them more productive. They want to get the right information in the most appropriate mode at the right time, without unnecessary redundancy or confusion. That objective is undermined by details such as having multiple phone numbers and voice mailboxes, instead of having them unified.
So mobile UC is a goal CIOs should be working toward. Even if their organizations don't want to risk being an early adopter, CIOs may be able to identify individual technologies that are relatively mature and worth piloting in some departments. It starts with understanding what's most important to your particular organization.