Key to BYOD isn't multiple devices, but single user experience

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

According to recent reports, the average business traveler carries three mobile devices for work and 25% of IT decision makers believe desk phones will be replaced by mobile phones within two years. The data points to an increasingly mobile workforce, one that expects a single user experience for accessing unified communications (UC) applications and services across all their preferred devices -- whether it is an employer-issued smartphone or an employee's BYOD tablet device.

To date, the BYOD conversation for enterprises has swirled around how to best manage and secure the myriad devices, applications and networks that employees use for communication and collaboration. But an enterprise fixated on how to best accommodate as many devices as possible overlooks a key fact: The technology and business benefits of BYOD will be undermined if end users lack a single, consistent and intuitive experience.

MORE: 7 BYOD policy essentials

It is instructive to consider what a single user experience can and should ultimately look like, challenges associated with delivering it, and ultimately how enterprises can ensure that more devices and networks enhance, rather than inhibit, workforce productivity and mobility.

Recognize the user experience challenge

Today, an enterprise end user making a voice call on a personal iPhone, cannot -- in the middle of that call -- seamlessly switch to a video chat on his iPad, or to an IM exchange on an employer-issued laptop. The byproduct of being unable to integrate disparate mobile applications, platforms and devices is an enterprise with communications silos for voice, video, text and collaboration.

At the same time, delivering a consistent user experience is difficult for providers tied to specific applications (i.e., Skype calling) and devices (i.e., Google Android phones). Mobile operators and service providers, with ownership of the network, are more strongly positioned, but must prove from a branding and execution perspective they can successfully extend beyond delivery of voice and data services.

While these challenges have restricted the BYOD experience to date for the mobile workforce, a single user experience extending across all devices and networks can significantly enhance the benefits of BYOD by providing:

• A single "identity" -- End users should be able to fully manage how they want to be contacted, which means having all of their contact information (call logs, IM contacts, etc.) available via the cloud across all user devices. This will enable users to invite contacts to a videoconference on their iPad, or review call history on a desktop softphone client -- in effect a single identity that extends across voice, video, presence and collaboration.

• Access from any device -- The proliferation of mobile devices should make communications easier, not more complex. Users should be able to access all of communications services from any device, including desk phone, desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet.

• High-definition voice and video -- A dynamic, consistent user experience should improve the quality of communications with high-definition (HD) voice and video calling.

Ensure real-time synchronization

Every enterprise end user, at some point, has suffered through calendars that are out of sync across their desktop and mobile devices, or the frustration of not having a simple way to access desktop IM contacts on a smartphone to initiate a last-minute videoconference call. Lack of synchronization of contact information, call logs, IM contacts and calendar data saddles users with massive amounts of duplicate information.

A single user experience for BYOD and employer-issued devices must enable real-time synchronization of call logs, buddy lists and service settings in real time, where all preferences are stored in the cloud and synchronized with the client on log-in. Absent cloud-based synchronization, the user experience becomes a jumbled mess where the employee loses faith in the accuracy of the information and the benefits of increased mobility are undermined.

Select the right user interface

Enterprises must carefully evaluate available user interfaces to ensure the provider has invested sufficiently in usability, interaction design, and a seamless UI that ties everything together. Enabling the integration of multiple unified communications applications across mobile and desktop devices is no easy technology feat -- it requires building a solution that accounts for and unifies all of the telecommunications protocols and how they apply to a mobile and IP communications environment. It requires a solution that recognizes all of the different devices (mobile and PC), and platforms (Mac, Windows, iOS and Android).

At the same time, this user interface must be mobile-ready from day one in order to account for BYOD and employer devices. Rather than having to fine-tune UC services to be compatible with each mobile network or device, enterprises must ensure that users can easily access all UC services from desk phones, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Software providers and device manufacturers are, not surprisingly, realizing how essential this is. The recent release of Microsoft Windows 8 and its "tiles" user interface is an unmistakable nod to the need for a UI that prioritizes mobile devices.

Be open to APIs

The impact of the "app economy" on business and consumers has been immense. Through the first six months of this year, $5.5 billion has been paid out to app developers for the iOS, and more than 650,000 apps reside in the Apple App Store.

Proprietary, closed systems and applications make it more difficult to provide a single user experience that extends across the enterprise. Open APIs (application programming interfaces) ensure various third-party applications can more easily integrate with horizontal business process applications, as well as unique vertical applications. Open APIs better enable the integration of, for example, public safety disaster notifications, into a single application the user already relies upon for various communications services.

By leveraging a single user experience for the mobile workforce, enterprises can ensure that the proliferation of BYOD and employer-provided devices becomes an enabler of enhanced, rather than cumbersome, communications and collaboration.

BroadSoft is a global provider of IP-based communications services.

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