Today’s workspace is as often an employee-owned smartphone or tablet as it is a desktop computer. That poses new challenges for companies as they out roll unified communications applications to their workforces. Lance Harris investigates.
The growing maturity of cloud-based and hosted unified communications solutions, along with a shift towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mobility in the workforce, promises to spur rapid growth in the usage of unified communications among organisations of all sizes.
Industry observers say that mobility – often enabled by employee-owned smartphones and tablets – is helping to bring to life the promise unified communications holds for more seamless collaboration. But they caution that BYOD also brings with it a set of major challenges for IT administrators in terms of security, manageability and integration. “Employee mobility and unified communications go hand-in- hand,” says Hannes van der Merwe, Itec product manager for Mitel at Itec Distribution. As workforces become more geographically dispersed, the requirement grows for a rich, real-time communications environment that integrates voice, e-mail, unified messaging, mobility, presence, conferencing, collaboration, and applications, he adds. With their end-users spending less time at their desks and more time working remotely or at customer sites, it has become important for organisations to give them tools that allow them to collaborate easily with their co-workers, says Van der Merwe.
Companies are now able to offer a range of enterprise unified communication capabilities to their mobile end-users, with cloud solutions helping to simplify deployment. In addition to email, users can now also access video conferencing, telepresence, instant messaging, voice conferencing, and more from their mobile devices. But with many users bringing their own tablets and smartphones to work, they now want to be able to use them for work communications and collaboration, says Van der Merwe. For example, they want to be able to make video calls from work personal contact using Skype or FaceTime.
SA enterprises embrace BYOD
Though many companies have concerns about the manageability and security of employee-owned devices, they are quickly becoming the work tools of choice for many South African workers. According to a global study commissioned this year by Dimension Data and conducted by Ovum, in emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa, more than 70% of employees who own a smartphone or tablet report using it for work.
Commenting on the findings, Gavin Hill, technical director: Solutions at Dimension Data South Africa, says: “Our research shows that more than 74% of South African employees who own smartphones and tablets bring these to work and use them for work. However, almost a third of respondents indicated they had no plans to support ‘any device’ BYOD at all, with almost a quarter planning no official BYOD policy.” Almost one third of South African enterprises said they provide support for any employee-owned smartphones and tablets and 53% indicated support for those which have arrived in the organisation with official vetting. The implication is that BYOD cannot be ignored in any enterprise unified communications implementation.
“As more employees bring their own devices to the workplace, and use them for key tasks, enterprises are investing in systems and solutions to manage, secure and support such devices,” write the authors of the Dimension Data report. “There is an opportunity for South African firms to better leverage the devices which their employees are already Making BYOD work for unified communications
Organisations that roll out BYOD policies as part of their unified communications strategies will need to make some investments in the technology, processes and policies needed to manage employee devices in the field. One immediate challenge is that BYOD may not deliver the upfront cost-savings or the ongoing operational expenses enterprises might hope for.
“You’ll find very few companies saying, ‘We have saved money through BYOD,’” says Nader Henein, security advisor at BlackBerry. “Previously companies used to be able to buy data in bulk, but when users buy their own data, [enterprises] no longer benefit from bulk discounts.”
Securing and administering devices can also be complex. “South African companies are being more flexible and allowing employees to use their own mobile devices at work,” says Paulo Ferreira, head of enterprise mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa. This has resulted in companies facing a tide of having multiple devices running a variety of operating systems in their network raising all sorts of security, management, efficiency, and integration concerns. Ferreira says that a ‘bring any device’ policy might not work for every enterprise. CIOs must choose whether to allow their environments to try and accommodate every mobile platform in the market or to align with those devices that are truly ready for the enterprise.
Some companies might prefer to align with manufacturers who can help them address BYOD issues around connectivity and collaboration, line of business applications, virtualisation, and providing support for productivity solutions such as unified communications .
To the point
“The concept of BYOD is here to stay but it needs to be supported in a way that allows for consistent management of Android or other platforms, and is interoperable enough to work on all enterprise-class solutions,” says Ferreira. This will allows corporate IT departments to standardise and offer pragmatic device guidelines for their end-users.
In their study, Dimension Data and Ovum recommend that the BYOD challenge should be approached as part of an overall enterprise mobility strategy. “With current mobile device and mobile application management software, extending [unified communications] applications to all mobile devices, irrespective of contract ownership, is a very viable option,” says the report.
Van der Merwe adds that one key to success for unified communications lies in securing buy-in from end-users. Training and change management programmes are essential for helping end-users understand the functionality at their fingertips, but getting end-users to embrace unified commu-nications might be easier when they can access it using the devices they use every day at work and at home.