In touch and ahead of the curve

Unified communications and collaboration is essential in the business world. Everybody is expected to be available the whole time by whatever means someone wants to contact them. Voice, email, social contact, video all need to be available on multiple devices so people can pick it up wherever they are.

A major trend taking this forward is consumerisation or “bring your own device” (BYOD) in which employees use their own technology rather than a company phone, laptop or tablet. The logic is impeccable. Many employees will have bought a more sophisticated smartphone or other device than their employer is likely to be able to afford en masse, so why not use them?

This has driven a lot of people to the BYOD fold, but this can be a mixed blessing because it’s being adopted in a hurry. In May this year Aruba published a survey that confirmed 69 per cent of enterprises of any size were encouraging staff to bring their own technology, for example.

The danger is that they will fail to consider some of the managerial implications. Daanish Khan, head of marketing and strategy at Formicary Collaboration Group, says that in the rush to duplicate the features a staff member might have on their mobile phone, businesses are failing to look at the impact on the business.

The benefits can be huge, just as the technology can be deceptively complex

People will sign up to a lot of cloud services on their own devices, for example, which may leave the IT department out of the equation. There are compliance issues as well, he says, with social communication needing to work as if it were corporate email and be available for e-discovery.

Another side to BYOD is the increased workload for an IT department which will now be expected to produce apps to mirror corporate systems and applications on the go, which isn’t necessarily an easy task. It is often simpler to decide which particular functions of an application are needed and ensure that an app acts as a conduit to them.

The end-user will, nevertheless, expect the IT department to support his or her enterprise app on whichever mobile platform they happen to own; this would until very recently have involved BlackBerry, Apple iOS and Android, but now Microsoft has emerged as a player. Security – how to stay safe in a BOYD world – as well as functionality is a factor.

The benefits can be huge, though, just as the technology can be deceptively complex. Walking around the Unified Communications Expo show earlier this year at London’s Olympia, you could see a demo of and environment that would flip a call from video on the computer or tablet to a mobile phone and back to the desktop without the caller being interrupted; it looked easy, anyway. You could test headsets from Jabra and Plantronics, you could test new Windows-based handsets, you could look at social media lookalike technology to replace internal email, which is arguably better because it’s searchable and open, and you could play with life-sized video conferencing.

Somewhere along the line this is only just beginning. A few years ago everyone was talking about unified messaging rather than unified communications; just getting a static one-way message to the right in-box and device was considered enough of an achievement.

That has changed forever and people are making the new communications on devices they happen to have in their pockets. This would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. The question now is whether, at this early stage, it’s going to be managed properly, ready for when it needs to scale up?