In the first and second parts of this series, we discussed the promise of Wi-Fi telephony and the criteria that
IT departments can use to evaluate their options. Our slightly skeptical view of Wi-Fi telephony reflects the maturity of the technology and the availability of devices today – things that are likely to change in the next couple of years. In this third part, we discuss a slightly different type of fixed-mobile convergence, something more appropriately called "enterprise-mobile" integration.
Enterprise-mobile integration (EMI) distinguishes itself from other network convergence architectures by providing valuable integration between carrier and enterprise networks. Other convergence approaches, such as Wi-Fi telephony, focus exclusively on network transport and call control, but an enterprise-mobile solution keeps the IT department out of the wireless business. This is a matter of core competency, and many managers admit that they're more than happy to pay a wireless operator.
Actually, the IT department is already paying the wireless operator for services, and users are quite comfortable with their mobile telephones, to the point of using these phones to the exclusion of their desktop terminals.
From an IT perspective, the company has already invested in a private branch exchange (PBX), a voicemail system and a network to connect offices. It is extremely cost-effective for users to make telephone calls on this corporate telephone network. The greatest expense on a PBX is the desktop terminal, the cabling to connect it, and the ongoing cost of moves, adds and changes. Meanwhile, users are shying away from desktop terminals in favor of their cellular phones.
Enterprise-mobile integration benefits
Adding up these factors, we see that there's a win-win situation here. Users actually prefer their mobile telephones, and IT departments are happy to phase out the cost of maintaining and supporting desktop terminals. Also, a mobile device significantly reduces the operational cost of moves, adds and changes. If we can provide enterprise network services to a mobile device served by a wireless operator, then we can address a number of challenges presented by the increased use of mobile telephones in the workplace.
- A single telephone number for workers becomes a practical reality. Instead of having separate office and mobile telephone numbers, the user can have a single "work" number that rings to the mobile device. The user can specify the hours in which the phone rings or goes to voicemail, and he can also define which groups of workers (team members, the boss, etc.) can ring through at any time.
- Corporate liability for mobile accounts. Many companies place the liability for mobile telephone usage on the individual user, relying on expense reporting as the way to manage mobile telephony expenses. By linking the account to the corporate network, the IT department can assume liability for services delivered to the mobile user.
- One voicemail. We've all had those co-workers who call when we're in a meeting and then leave us messages on both our office and mobile telephones. Then we make two calls to different voicemail systems to listen to what is essentially the same message. In the course of integrating between the enterprise PBX and the mobile operator network, it's possible to provide users with a single voicemail box for all calls to the "work" number.
- Separation of work and personal. We've discussed the idea of a single "work" number, but there remains the question of what to do with personal calls. The IT department can use a SIM-based application to enable a second "personal" telephone number on the mobile handset. The user can be liable for this account, including all ring-tone downloads, music, video, gaming and other content offered by the wireless operator.
- Integration with enterprise network features such as directory services and call routing is also possible. The directory feature can coordinate corporate contact lists on the PBX and in platforms such as Exchange and Notes, and this information can be made available to workers on their mobile handsets. Call routing is another valuable feature because workers can make long-distance and international calls over the corporate network without having to think about and use cumbersome local access and dial-around numbers.
Where's the rub?
The aforementioned benefits resonate with IT departments and users alike. Of course, there is a cost to an enterprise-mobile integration solution – it requires investments in hardware and software as well as working more closely with the wireless operator, something that many managers would prefer not to do.
Existing enterprise-mobile integration products are complex, and they do get into carrier signaling networks. Wireless operators are currently working to turn these products into more cohesive solutions for the enterprise, and the ideal solution would involve something as basic as a leased line between the PBX and the carrier, but we know that far more work will be involved.
Another issue to weigh is the vendor management challenge that comes from having a direct linkage to at least one wireless operator. Most large enterprises maintain relationships with multiple wireless operators, with managers using the ability to switch providers as a key negotiation point. Having integration between the enterprise and carrier network diminishes this option. Also, multiple carriers will mean multiple integrations. Enterprise-mobile integration isn't yet "plug and play," so these integrations will add cost and complexity for the IT department.
Finally, an issue that we'll address in the next part of this series is in-building signal improvement. If an IT department makes an investment in an enterprise-mobile integration solution, then there are no more excuses in dealing with dead spots.