Unified Communications, the Enterprise, the Mobile Phone and the Threat to Mobile Operators

UC (Unified Communications) brings together the communication and data networks of an enterprise.  The Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA), led by Nortel and Microsoft, is creating the hype surrounding UC.  The purpose of this article is not to discuss UC within the enterprise, rather look at the emerging mobilization of UC and the impact it could have on mobile operators.

North American Mobile Office revenues are predicted to reach $6-7B in 2011, their current CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) is about 40%.  In Europe, Vodafone’s Mobile Office service has done well with roughly 2M customers.  As ‘human latency,’ that is the time it takes for decisions to be made, becomes increasingly important to the performance of businesses.  Enabling employees to be easily contactable and have access to the enterprise applications and data regardless of location is becoming mission critical.

Looking at the benefits of UC mobilization for the three main actors:

  • For customers, mobilizing UC helps in removing some of the communications complexity, e.g. multiple voicemail boxes, multiple messaging platforms, multiple identifies and phone numbers.  Doing a quick tally, I currently have 5 mobile numbers (a US postpaid mobile and prepaid SIMs for the UK, Singapore, UAE and France), an office number, 6 IM/VoIP accounts, and 6 email addresses that I know of.  There are simply too many choices and not enough success with today’s disparate communication tools.
  • For enterprises, UC helps reduce human latency, enabling employees and partners to get in contact as soon as possible to speed up decision making, improving the company’s competitiveness and efficiency.
  • For mobile operators: mobilizing UC is strategically important as voice becomes just another application on enterprise IP networks, so they must deliver the UC solution else risk significant voice and VAS (Value Added Service) revenue erosion.

Some of the trends impacting this emerging landscape are:

  • Enterprise vendors are using the ubiquity of IP to make communications just another “application,” e.g. Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel and Oracle.   Microsoft Communicator Mobile will present a significant threat as the corporate directory, messaging, presence and potentially VoIP could be driven ‘over-the-top’ of the operators network.
  • Ultra-mobile PCs and increasing broadband wireless speeds will make the mobile channel ‘more’ transparent to IP based communications.  Blurring the difference in experience between a ‘phone on the go’ and the ‘PC in the office.’
  • Existing mobile email vendors are moving into the UC and enterprise application space, e.g. RIM.  Enabling the Blackberry junkies to use the device beyond email.
  • Hosted enterprise software, e.g. Salesforce.com, has achieved broad market acceptance, creating opportunities for all players to mash-up integrated enterprise solutions.

In this emerging environment what is an operator to do?  Recent enterprise market studies show they still prefer to look to the operator for mobilization solutions.  But given the size of the market and the number of innovative players all trying to leverage their incumbency in the customer’s experience, the current preference may not be around for long.

  • Partnering with the UC vendors is essential, even through there is a potential long-term risk of from UC vendor’s handset clients, UC is going to happen within the enterprise first, and be mobilized second.  There is no option but to work with the incumbent UC vendors.
  • For converged operators with an established enterprise solution business, offering a hosted UC solution with mobilization will be attractive to a number of enterprise segments.  Though an emerging issue will be the integration of this with enterprise applications and data, that is being able to mash-up the hosted solution into the enterprises’ data and processes.
  • For mobile-only operators the key is to focus on having a best in class mobile solution that can work across a number of UC platforms.  For example, having the UC client and other mobilization application driven from a common user interface.
  • Regardless of operator, the over-riding need is to deliver a tight integrated customer experience.  Offering and charging for separate services, e.g. presence, collaboration, messaging, email, directory, security, and enterprise integration will ensure an enterprise goes elsewhere.