The Trend Skeptic: Convergence Will Benefit Everyone

Oddly enough, this lack of control could be a good thing. Freed from worrying about hardware, networks and total device control, the enterprise can refine its focus and exercise ownership/control over only those things that matter to them—enterprise applications.

Startup mobile convergence providers like FirstHand (now CounterPath), DiVitas and OnRelay encourage this line of thinking. Their solutions zero in on the existing enterprise infrastructure, such as the PBX, and use it to extend services out to the mobile channel. Meanwhile, incumbent enterprise equipment vendors like Cisco, Siemens, Avaya and Nortel are pursuing a similar strategy, lending the space gravitas.

“CIOs can let employees choose the handsets they prefer, as long as they’re compatible,” Hattey said. The reason many businesses hope for more carrier attention is that carries make choices, vet those choices and then provide support. They limit what the CIO has to worry about.

Carriers Ignore Us, so Why Don’t We Ignore Them?

Without carrier participation, the thinking goes, enterprises will have their hands full testing devices and networks and customizing applications. With solid enterprise-focused middleware in place, though, enterprises can return the favor to carriers and start ignoring them too.

CIOs will only need to worry about a few, finite variables: ensuring handset compatibility (done by middleware providers), mobilizing enterprise applications, and controlling the enterprise client software that resides on the handset. Still, hurdles remain. “The only way to get employees to buy into enterprise mobility, especially when they’re paying for and using their own devices, is to create value for them,” Hattey explained.

While topics like fixed-mobile convergence and unified communications get talked up in the press, Hattey believes that simpler, subtler benefits will be the engine that drives the mobile enterprise.

The Real Benefits Are Simple and Counter-intuitive

The most basic benefit is call routing, along with deep caller ID. Sure, call forwarding is nothing new, but it’s usually dumb forwarding. Calls go to one preset number and caller ID information is stripped out. The only ID is from the number doing the forwarding. If the mobilized PBX can find you on the fly and tell you who exactly is calling, there is a benefit.

What’s more, the mobile phone now has a business identity. If you don’t answer, calls go into enterprise, not mobile, voicemail. Moreover, you can stop printing your mobile phone number on business cards. All you need is one business number. The calls will find you. This may seem trivial, but think about all those sales reps with all of those business cards in all of those customers’ hands.

Other benefits are equally subtle until you try, in the real world, to use things like mobile email. Without enterprise spam filters and folder options, many mobile email programs on consumer-class phones are practically unusable. Many mid-tier carrier plans force users into having separate email accounts or relying on WebMail. As a result, we’re forced to have yet another point of contact: text messages.

The final hidden benefit is cost. Communication providers always raise the price bar for business. If consumers are footing the cellular network bill (even if reimbursed by their organizations), carriers are pretty much stuck with a reasonable price point. That just may be the best thing yet for the mobile enterprise.