In today's competitive climate, being available and responsive to key customers for information, service, decisions and creative collaboration can make the difference between success and failure. Although the ability of customers and co-workers to access mobile employees is becoming more of a necessity, many companies do not have the right network infrastructure, devices or supporting mobility appliances to fully address their mobile communications needs. Current mobility solutions consist of systems that support limited mobility and application functionality access on distinct wireless networks (e.g., WLAN or WWAN). WLAN-enabled terminals and specific WLAN-enabled telephony devices deliver on-campus data/voice mobility. Standard cellular phones offer off-campus mobility but at a sizable cost, and with no coupling back into the enterprise communication and data systems.
Today, the most popular enterprise mobility solution is cellular-based access to corporate email and cellular phone services. These devices meet minimum mobility requirements in allowing associates to communicate via the expansive cellular network and receive/send emails to customers and associates. Meeting these minimal functional requirements has created a growing business that has annual sales of over $2 billion worldwide, yet has only penetrated some 5 percent of the total available enterprise market. These mobile systems meet real enterprise needs but are typically costly and offer only partial mobility. Further penetration of this huge market has been hampered by the high cost of solution components and a lack of unified end-to-end mobility solutions.
A further hindrance to market acceptance of these products is their limited support for mission-critical enterprise applications tied to voice, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Field Service Automation (FSA). To fully mobilize an enterprise user, emerging solutions must go beyond email.
Enterprise Mobility Requirements
Within the modern enterprise, associates are becoming more and more mobile (away from their desks) in performance of their jobs. Some research has indicated that more than 80 percent of all enterprise associates are mobile to some degree during their work day, and up to 30 percent are considered highly mobile ("road warriors"). Given such a fluid state within the enterprise, how do associates and customers communicate? How much productivity is lost in practicing "telephone tag"? How do mobile associates access corporate information to make decisions when they are away from their desks?
With existing mobility solutions, one can receive/make phone calls or send/receive email within either WLAN or cellular coverage, but not both (see Figure 1). This mutually exclusive access limitation, however, often requires a road warrior to carry two devices--one for in-building and one for off-campus. This results in two separate voicemail systems to manage and limits email functionality based on the network coverage and available bandwidth. Even with these tools, associates are often required to return to their desks to return voicemail or access the corporate information necessary to perform their jobs. Neither solution approach satisfies the broad scope of enterprise mobility requirements.
Figure 1 - Cellular and on-campus mobile solution limits
What stands in the way of achieving true mobility for the enterprise employee?
-Seamless access across WLAN and WWAN networks.
-Integration into enterprise business systems.
Other technical requirements for true mobility include security, quality-of-service, standards conformance and application integration challenges.
Challenges for Enterprise Mobility
To address the seamless network access requirement, enterprises need to design their networks to accommodate a mobility solution that specifically addresses the needs of all mobile employees. The ideal solution integrates into their existing data and network infrastructures.
The concept of fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) is one promoted by carriers to address enterprise mobility challenges. The primary goal for operators with FMC is to retain value in their fixed/wired network assets as they migrate customers to a single, wireless network infrastructure. For the enterprise, FMC marries Wi-Fi network infrastructure with a cellular provider network to extend coverage both on and off campus for continuous communication services over dual-mode devices. Deployment of such communication solutions not only can lower costs by reducing dependence on cellular service through use of Wi-Fi/Intranet services where possible but also can extend access to corporate applications beyond the campus for a more efficient work force.
A more important concept for enterprises is "mobile-to-mobile" convergence (MMC): being able to move without barriers between two dissimilar mobile networks and remain connected. Access to corporate applications via Wi-Fi services on campus and via cellular services off campus greatly extends the reach of the enterprise communications fabric. In addition, with the rapid proliferation of hotspots, or hotzones, enterprises can further extend enterprise connectivity capabilities. When fully deployed, such solutions virtually eliminate geographic boundaries while extending application functionality. They also are completely carrier independent.
The marriage of enterprise-based, network-agnostic mobility and integration with mission-critical enterprise applications is the ultimate value-add that MMC can achieve. Standard IP-based applications (email and Web browsers) can easily operate in a mobile-to-mobile environment because of the minimum TCP/IP support required. Mobilizing complex critical enterprise applications requires additional middleware capabilities that integrate full mobility with application-specific support. A comprehensive MMC solution supports a backend integration option that is under the control of the enterprise IT management.
Full mobilization of the enterprise will be a stepwise achievement realized in a multi-vendor environment. Wireless LAN vendors, WWAN carrier providers, mobile handset manufacturers, mobility solutions vendors and application vendors will collaborate to offer solutions that can meet enterprise mobility requirements at a surprisingly low cost.
The optimum network solution is one that supports agnostic roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular while providing consistent access to key enterprise applications (see Figure 2). Mobile devices that support either Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity (e.g., smartphones) can connect back into enterprise application systems, but maximum mobility is realized with dual-mode (Wi-Fi/cellular) devices. Such devices can be integrated into the enterprise network fabric with the appropriate mobility solution (mobility servers and clients) to support the required user mobility and access to enterprise applications virtually without boundaries.
Integration into the enterprise infrastructures requires end-to-end support for both data and real-time applications. Real-time cross-network connectivity poses certain unique challenges, but integration to the enterprise PBX affords a critical consistency of connection not provided when the user carries a cellular-only device. Such "one number" reach capabilities greatly simplify connectivity management overhead and options to access customers, vendors and associates. Beyond accessing corporate email over multiple networks, virtually any corporate-specific application can thus become accessible in a virtual space. Devices with unrestricted network access can now support CRM, ERP, FSA and other horizontal/vertical market or customer custom applications to provide the mobile user with a virtual desktop for communication of voice/video/data access anywhere and anytime.
Figure 2 - Optimum enterprise mobility solution
The last stage of evolutionary functional development might be viewed as yet another stage of convergence: application convergence. At this stage discrete applications can interact to share capabilities between peer applications--where applications publish their functionality for other applications to utilize. An example of this kind of "convergence" is where a user of a CRM application may want to launch a telephone call to a customer. The user does not have to copy down the customer phone number and launch the softphone dialer to make the call, rather, the CRM application automatically accesses services published by the mobility telephony client. In this mode, the full functionality the end user observes appears to be seamless and tightly integrated.
To be accepted in the enterprise market, these "optimum" solutions need to address more than network and application access. Key to any of these solutions will be the additional support of security (at multiple levels), presence and policy management. These last functional components are, perhaps, the most important consideration for enterprise IT management. Using them means that enterprise IT managers can provide the functionality required by the highly or semi-mobile associate, while being able to manage cost and use policies applied for any device.
Today's enterprise mobility market has focused on mobilizing email and voicemail; however, enterprises are starting to realize how much their businesses depend on other key applications such as CRM, ERP and FSA for their day-to-day operations. Mobilizing applications that are bound to voice services can greatly benefit the enterprise by unshackling employees from their desks and letting them enjoy the benefit of working directly with customers while being mobile. In fact, almost the entire sales force benefits, since reps can access critical enterprise data while in the field.
The productivity gained by mobilizing enterprise applications can result in increased revenue and improved cash flow by enabling quicker response to customer requests, better quality, faster service, improved sales and renewal rates, and faster and more accurate billing. Mobilizing enterprise employees can also reduce company costs and increase customer satisfaction.
New enterprise-based mobility solutions are now convincing many enterprise technology planners to accelerate their migration to converged networks that extend to the full breadth of the enterprise. The optimal solution mobilizes the whole associate application environment--beyond email or telephony services.
Richard Watson is director of product management for DiVitas Networks. Prior to taking on this role, he held positions as director of product management for the Longboard, Inc. FMC product. Prior to his work at Longboard, Rich held the position of director of product marketing for Symbol Technologies' embedded family of Wi-Fi Telephony VoIP products, where he managed the software engineering team and was responsible for developing Symbol's Wi-Fi Telephony products. Before joining Symbol, he worked in a variety of senior engineering and marketing roles for network and wireless companies, including 3Com and Motorola. He contributes regularly to trade journals writing on leading-edge topics on wireless VoIP and frequently participates on panels at industry shows.
*This is a contributed article and so does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Mobile Enterprise magazine.