I’ve spent most of my career on the road, and having my office-on-my-phone has been the holy grail well before Apple launched the iPhone. Twenty years ago technologies like computer telephony integration (CTI) introduced features such as call screening and simultaneous ringing with a toll-free number, but we’ve come a long way since then.
Networks have evolved with mobile high-speed internet access available everywhere on the planet. Globally the number of smartphone users has reached 2.1 billion, and is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. And since SaaS offerings generally include a mobile component, we’re seeing a corresponding abundance of mobile business app usage in the enterprise.
The four key Unified Communications (UC) features I can’t live without when I’m on the road include: instant messaging (IM), presence status, conferencing, and access to shared files.
Typically, these types of apps are silo’d on our phones, making our work experience disconnected, cumbersome and inefficient. With over 80% mobile workers using text messaging for business today, and mobile workers spending more than 60% of their time on the road, staying connected to colleagues, knowing when they’re free to talk or chat, and being able to access files we’ve shared are essential to productivity and competitive advantage.
So that leaves a somewhat rhetorical question, “Can we reasonably expect full access to all our office communications tools when we’re on the road?”.
Using Your Mobile as Your Primary Work Phone
Historically, we’ve grown accustomed to having only basic calling features from our mobile devices, but the reality is we need much more than that. Those limitations have been alleviated with sophisticated mobile UC apps such as BroadSoft UC-One, which takes advantage of mobile phone OS/API enhancements that improve the usability of those apps.
Most recently, Apple introduced a CallKit for IOS10, which allows UC app developers to take advantage of the iPhone’s native call handling features to improve the user experience. This means mobile workers can use their UC app, in much the same way they use their iPhone native calling screen for personal phone calls. Some examples include dialing UC calls directly from their native contacts, answering a UC call from a locked screen, and most importantly, not having UC VoIP calls disconnected by incoming non-VoIP calls.
Enterprise-wide instant messaging is the new normal for quick communications and in many cases, especially in small business, has significantly reduced unnecessary email usage resulting in faster response times and improved workflows.
While business messaging has become a mainstay of corporate communications, its use on mobile devices has been hampered by battery and connectivity problems.
Additionally, messaging apps designed for laptop UIs didn’t work well on the small screen sizes of smartphones. Recently iOS/Android notification frameworks have greatly improved the reliability of corporate IMs. As a result, mobile UC apps like UC-One Connect can now run in the background, consuming small amounts of battery and network connectivity, and when messages are sent to the user, iOS/Android notification frameworks alert the user and make the app active.
Telephony presence status integration is an unexpected benefit because the UC platform understands the ACTUAL presence status of the user, versus the scheduled status of the user—for example it knows when I’m mobile, on a call or offline. And storing messages in the cloud allows a ubiquity of service, regardless of the device or network being used.
Integration and Access to Other Corporate Apps
Typical businesses are using 25-30 applications for a variety of purposes, and virtually all offer an iOS and Android version. The top 5 cloud apps used at work are Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce.com, Box, Amazon Web Services and Google Suite; all of which are consumed very easily while on the road.
In fact, 59% of employees use their mobile devices to access these types of apps. Initial mobile versions of the applications were sub-par, suffering from the same deficiencies as UC apps; the desktop version was just ported over to the phone, making the apps hard to use, resulting in major usability problems. Today’s versions are now created with the mobile use-case in mind, considering that the method of interaction is a pane a glass and not a keyboard and mouse. However, these business apps aren’t talking to the UC apps, creating communication and technology silos which are perpetually impeding efficiency and productivity.
Open APIs are a start to help tear down these silos, and all of the major cloud providers expose a robust set of APIs. Contextual UC features such as those in BroadSoft Hub are an example of how the utilization of APIs from Microsoft Office 365, G-suite and Salesforce.com remove the barriers of silo’d apps, by associating the person who you’re communicating with, with the relevant artifacts (docs, presentations, emails, shared files, social posts, etc.) stored in those cloud apps.
The idea is to eradicate “Let me call you back in a few minutes while I search for that document” from the lexicon of today’s knowledge workers, and bring them the context they need to have smarter and more informed communications which lead to faster decision making and problem solving.
All in all, the user experience and productivity for mobile professionals has significantly improved over the past 2 years primarily due to enhancements to cloud services, APIs, mobile devices, and design enhancements focused on usability and a “mobile-first” user experience.
Can we reasonably expect full access to all our office communications tools when we’re on the road? I can confidently say yes.
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