Jan 15 2013

Breaking Down Barriers with Mobile UC

Unified communications technology brings learning to students’ mobile devices.

Coppin State University believes mobile unified communications can improve teaching and learning on campus. Earlier this year, the Baltimore college ran tests with a pilot group of 50 students to better learn how to use the instant messaging and video chat features in Microsoft Lync.

“We know that one of the elements that helps students succeed in college is student engagement,” says Ahmed El-Haggan, Ph.D., Coppin State’s CIO.

El-Haggan says the university aims to use Microsoft Lync to improve communications between students, faculty and staff. During the pilot, students and faculty sent instant messages to one another during online meetings for distance learning courses. In addition, students shared documents on mobile devices via Microsoft Office 365.

The university integrated Microsoft Lync with Avaya’s Voice over IP technology for the faculty and staff more than a year ago. El-Haggan says Coppin State wanted to make sure faculty and staff understood and could use the technology before offering it to the students. Coppin State plans to roll out the added IM and video features in Microsoft Lync to all students in time for the fall semester of 2013.

72%The percentage of U.S. workers who became remote or mobile by the end of 2012

SOURCE: UCStrategies

More and more campuses, including Coppin State and Marquette University in Milwaukee, are using mobile devices to extend the reach of UC technology.

“UC capabilities such as IM, e-mail and video conferencing can be provided and accessed via mobile devices, enabling people to use the same user interface across all devices,” says Blair Pleasant, co-founder of UCStrategies. “Most, if not all, UC manufacturers now offer some type of mobile client, which allows users to access these UC capabilities on their smartphones, tablets and mobile notebooks.”

Mobile in Milwaukee

At Marquette University, students, faculty and staff have been using the mobile UC features in Microsoft Lync for a few years. Danny Smith, the university’s deputy CIO, says students use the technology to collaborate on group projects and to IM fellow students and professors.

Smith says UC has come a long way in the past few years. With Lync, everyone on staff now has caller ID and a speakerphone, as well as the capability to forward calls from a desk phone to a cell phone. While away from the office, a user’s notebook can stay connected with IM or even serve as a phone, keeping the user productive. The presence feature in Microsoft Lync has become especially popular with faculty and staff, Smith says.

“All they have to do is open up Lync, and if they see that someone is in a meeting, they know not to call that person,” he explains. “We had an issue with a storage area network a while back that caused us to lose the presence feature, and a lot of people commented that they really missed it. It’s become really important to see the status of somebody.”

4 Tips for Taking UC Mobile

Chris Silva, an industry analyst focusing on mobility at the Altimeter Group, offers four tips for organizations looking to take their unified communications systems mobile.

1: Figure out the business rules. Silva advises organizations to decide how to direct calls to the correct person well before deployment. For example, he suggests that when a help desk call comes in to customer support, the organization route the call to the next available customer support person with expertise in the area of the problem. An organization can route calls to the best available alternative by coding skills and expertise into staff directories or other knowledge bases. Using UC to improve efficiency quickly becomes as much a human capital issue as a tech one.

2: Make critical infrastructure decisions. Many organizations need to upgrade their infrastructures to support UC features such as the capability to locate users. In many cases, standard Wi-Fi networks designed for data access don’t provide the granularity of detail needed for such location services, so organizations should add more density to the Wi-Fi network and deploy a location server to route calls properly.

3: Train the staff. Create awareness across the staff of what UC technology can do and the appropriate uses for it.

4: Choose the right partner. Different providers — from giant IT corporations to smaller firms — offer a variety of options and price points. Research what’s available to find the best fit.