Ever since the telecommunications vendors made VoIP available on their wireless networks and WiFi emerged as a standard feature on many, if not most mobile phones, communications equipment vendors ranging from startups to well-established Global 1000 companies have been working to untether the business phone, that last bastion of entrenched hardwired technology. Some companies, such as Cisco, sought to tackle the problem by introducing special VoIP handsets and other technology that, more often than not, proved more onerous to deal with than simply keeping the old tethered business phones in place.
The benefits of unified communications (UC) however, are not illusory. In particular, these benefits include the ability to use whatever phone is best at any particular moment in time, the ability to use a smartphone while maintaining all the benefits of the desktop business phone (e.g. multi user conference calls,
access to the corporate phone and email directories, the ability to forward calls and use extension shortcuts, and so on), the ability to utilize both WiFI and 3G/4G networks, and last - but most important of all - having only one business number that will find you no matter what phone you happen to have access to at any given moment (which eliminates the need for a separate mobile phone number or for employees to share their personal phone numbers as part of their business contact info).
These benefits are so valuable that UC should become standard operating procedure for all business organizations large and small. Given its potential business value it has become a question as to whether or not the vast BYOD-driven diversity of mobile device technology that has entered the enterprise in the last several years - from Apple iOS to Android to Windows Phone 7 and others - represents a roadblock to successful UC implementation or the right opportunity to finally drive large numbers of UC implementations.
A number of discussions with the vendor community suggest that BYOD has helped to escalate UC deployments. That position is to be expected from UC vendors of course. But in fact, a number of discussions with enterprises of various sizes have also strongly indicated that BYOD is indeed a boon for UC, and is helping to drive UC forward. An excellent example of this can be found at GrayRobinson, a Florida-based law firm that has recently put in place a large BYOD UC deployment.
Cheryl Bennett, Director of Information Technology for GrayRobinson, is the person behind the deployment, and as she puts it, “The primary motivation for taking the UC route is that our 700 plus people across ten locations are more often than not out in the field, at client meetings, in the courthouse, working from home offices, and essentially on call for their clients 24 hours a day. The business phone sitting back at the office becomes less and less useful every day, and we needed a way to ensure that our attorneys, their teams and their clients would easily be able to stay connected 24 hours a day.”
Bennett also notes that GrayRobinson was operating as a BYOD shop long before the term “BYOD” caught on, and that initially she had a challenge in maintaining an environment that contained Android and BlackBerry devices, and a substantial number of iPhones and iPads. One of Bennett’s key goals was to bring all of these devices together under a single management console and to create a single point of control no matter what devices were in use.
Bennett notes that, “As we studied the problem it became clear that UC was the right solution, and that pulling our collection of mobile devices together would afford us the opportunity to deliver essentially all of our business phone functionality to the mobile handsets, regardless of what they are. Once we settled on moving to a UC implementation we went through an evaluation process and we settled on Siemens Communications’ OpenScape platform. It delivers all the functionality we need and allows us to quickly add any mobile device, no matter how new to the market. Our attorneys tend to gravitate to the latest and greatest toys and OpenScape makes it simple to add them to the mix.”
GrayRobinson is a longtime Siemens customer (OpenScape Voice handles voice requirements and OpenScape Xpressions handles messaging and Microsoft integration), but Bennett says the firm never the less went through an extensive RFP evaluation that included Cisco and ShoreTel, among others.
Bennett says, “The OpenScape UC Application ended up providing the best UC capabilities overall, including the ability to add UC-based videoconferencing down the road. The overall level of functionality and the ability to use any mobile device made it an easy sell to management.”
Siemen’s OpenScape UC Application provides One Number Service, Device Preference, Conference Management, and Enterprise Directory Access. All a GrayRobinson employee needs to do is go to their Apple, Android or BlackBerry app store, download the OpenScape UC client, and they are ready to go. “Once they’ve downloaded the client, we give them their logon information and they are up and running, with one business contact number, conference call management and the ability to participate in conference calls on the fly, and instant access to the corporate directory. Access to the corporate directory is a huge benefit,” says Bennett.
Bennett does caution that the UC solution does not protect the company if a device is lost or stolen. “Obviously, as a law firm we are extremely sensitive to protecting confidential data,” Bennett notes. “To ensure that we maintain a high level of security, we’ve brought Zenprise on.”
A side benefit of implementing a UC strategy is the subsequent ability to eliminate the need to have any costly tethered business phones. For many businesses, especially those where every dollar in the budget is carefully counted, eliminating such an expense is non-trivial. When asked about it, Bennett, with perhaps just a hint of nostalgia in her voice, replied that “Although we can easily get rid of them, for the immediate future we’ve opted to hold on to our business phones. There are a few folks at GrayRobinson who aren’t mobile and see no need to switch - and we need to make them happy as well.
Bennett sees no downside to UC. Her advice is to “Fully leverage BYOD. Get the ball rolling as quickly as possible and your users will simply thank you for it. Adding the full range of business phone functionality creates the most effective anytime, anywhere mobile environment, and drives non-trivial productivity improvements, so your CFO will also thank you. It is a win-win across the board.”