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Thursday, November 01, 2007

A lot of enterprise FMC vendors still don't get it

The final panel session I attended at VON yesterday was on enterprise FMC.

There's plenty of good stuff I heard from an interesting range of participants, but fundamentally I still don't think that many of the players understand all of:

- Enterprise preferences
- Carrier requirements
- Handset design complexity
- User interface & behaviour

I still see plenty of 2002-vintage "one device, one number" rhetoric. Sorry, but while that may have conceptual elegance it's totally unrealistic. Many business users will have a business laptop as well as a phone. Many (most?) will have a separate personal handset & number - and although it is possible to have this as a 'profile' on a work phone, most employers won't want to be giving employees a new cool phone every 6 months, or start providing them in pink.

The numbering thing is similarly unrealistic, especially outside North America, where there are issues around fixed-to-cellular termination costs and SMS, that make it desirable to have both fixed and mobile numbers, even if they are bridged in the PBX or operator network. (Note: Vodafone's FMC team have 2 numbers on their business cards, as do many of Ericsson's employees. They've thought this through.)

Linked to this, there is also lots of rhetoric about the enterprise 'owning the number'. This might work for organisations that can be really 'proscriptive' and force employees to use their business device for all voice calls under pain of dismissal, irrespective of how clunky the extra software client might be. But real-world companies have to recognise that most user will have access to multiple devices, and that as calling rates come down, the issue of reimbursement becomes less of an issue than user experience. If I have 2 mobile devices (1 work, 1 personal), both with essentially unlimited minutes, I'll tend to use the one with the best UI (fewer clicks, intuitive menus, neat little features in the call register etc) and which looks the coolest when I want to impress my clients. And I'll use the clunkier one for things like messaging if it's got a QWERTY.

Also lots of talk about enterprise VCC. I'm not convinced it's that important from the enterprise's point of view. Certainly, there's no point worrying about the cellular-WLAN handoff at the front door of the building, if all the (many more) WLAN-WLAN handoffs inside don't work first. After we get good coverage & internal handover of voice-optimised WLANs throughout the typical corporate site, we can worry about the 2% of calls that occasionally transit the entrance lobby. Otherwise it's just putting lipstick on a pig.

There's also (so far) no real rallying call for enterprises to buy unlocked, 'vanilla' (or custom-build) smartphones. Yes, there's a lot of offhand comment that this is generally a good thing, but I'd like to see the enterprise FMC community put something collective in place to raise awareness in the same way that Nokia is pitching US consumers with unlocked handsets as an alternative to the iPhone.

Then there's something that I'm risking sounding like a broken record on. SMS. There's still lousy support for good SMS experience within most vendors' enterprise FMC implementations. No, it's not easy, but from a user behaviour point of view it is table stakes. If it doesn't work within the enterprise FMC app on the phone, the user will use the native SMS client - which will then naturally reveal the 'underlying' mobile number rather than the so-called enterprise 'single number'. Or they'll send the SMS from their personal phone in their other pocket. And guess which number the salesman's client will enter into his phonebook when he gets an SMS saying "in the taxi, be there in 10 mins". And no, IM or email are not alternatives from the perspective of a typical mobile user's entrenched behaviour patterns and expectations. For instance, you never know if someone outside your company is capable of recieving IM, or has a BlackBerry switched on. You can be pretty certain they can get texts wherever/whenever, though.

To be fair, there was some comeback to my question to the panel about SMS. In particular, Comdasys, a German FMC firm, mentioned integrating SMS gateways, which are probably the best way to solve the problem, at least on the server side. It's less clear-cut on the client side - I've heard some solutions that essentially put in a 2nd SMS client inside the handset's corporate PBX-facing application.

And lastly, coming back to my theme of the month, there's not much awareness yet of the possibilities of VoIPo3G, extending the full power of VoIP/unified comms over the wide area, as well as while the user is in the office WiFi coverage.

Overall, I'd say the enterprise FMC industry has come a long way in 2007 - but there's still a gap between what's deliverable today, and the sort of solution that will please both CIO and fit with the typical user behaviour of a person with a mobile phone (or two...)


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis.

I think with unlocked phones or SIM based phones, employers dont need to provide a phone,they just provide a SIM.

I am more worried about in-office calling pattern, which might make calling experience chaotic on LCIB.

Todd Spraggins said...

How do you see data fitting into FMC (more specifically for enterprise-carrier interworking).