Guest Column | January 26, 2009

The Mobility Opportunity For VARs: What's In It For You?


Written by: Wayne Seifried, director of global portfolio marketing for enterprise mobility at Siemens Comm

Forward thinking companies have begun to perceive the cost and productivity benefits that effective mobile communications can have on their operations. However, while mobility is recognized as a major productivity booster, most small and mid-sized businesses lack the expertise required to adequately integrate a mobile solution within their existing communications infrastructure. In the meantime, cellular expenditures are spiraling out of control and businesses are looking for a clear return on the network investments.

These dynamics create a real opportunity for VARs to begin offering the systems and expertise that will allow their customers to capitalize on mobility. In a market environment where margins are eroding, mobility provides a vehicle for VARs to stay ahead of the curve in delivering new product and service offerings that help their customers increase their profitability. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require VARs to broaden their portfolios and expand their focus to include mobility in their solutions portfolio.
Mobility represents a major opportunity for VARs who can develop their expertise and take on products that will allow them to meet the widest range of mobility requirements. With their understanding of the customer’s existing voice and data communications systems and the trust relationship they have built, the VAR is in an excellent position to assist customers in bridging the gap between their customers’ wired and wireless solutions.

Getting A Handle On Mobility
Mobility is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition as different organizations and user groups will require different mobile capabilities. The earliest enterprise mobility initiatives looked at simply providing users with basic voice service and equipping key personnel with cell phones. The result was that each user had two numbers and had to check voicemail in two mailboxes. On the data side, WLANs provided in-building mobility and quickly became the most widely used network connection for traveling users. Now 3G cellular and WiMAX services are extending the wireless reach.

In helping customers plan their mobility strategy it is important to look beyond the immediate need. Mobile users will need to be accessible at a single number and should be able to access text, email, and business applications along with voice services. Unified communications (UC) capabilities can also be extended to the mobile population so it is important to have a solution in place that can incorporate those capabilities as well.

Matching Solutions To Customer Requirements
Any mobile solution will involve some type of wireless network, and the two primary options today are cellular and wireless LAN; as time goes on, other options like WiMAX may be added to the list. Cellular service is available worldwide, however, cellular coverage may not be optimal indoors and organizations are already seeing their cellular charges skyrocket with the addition of data plans. The other option is a wireless LAN, which entails no wireless service charges. Once considered a data-only technology, WLAN voice technology has now developed to the point where it can be as secure and reliable as wired telephone service.
The key to developing a successful mobile solution will be to understand the mobility requirements of the customer’s various user groups and determine how to best provide those capabilities. Typically you will find a range of user profiles each with different mobility and applications needs. Some personnel may be mobile, but only within the facility or campus, an excellent potential for WLAN-only access.

There may also be users who divide their time between their office, remote offices and customer locations. For those users, a dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular solution might be the best fit. State-of-the-art solutions support voice and data services and can transparently handoff a connection from the WLAN to the cellular network when a user leaves the facility.
Users who spend a significant portion of their time on the road will have to depend on cellular connectivity, but cellular service can now be integrated with the wired telephone system. The PBX can ring the desk phone and the cell phone simultaneously, and the user can answer the call on either. Enhanced solutions build on that capability by providing a software client in the cell phone that allows access to UC-based features like presence-based directory and visual voicemail.

Choosing A Partner
Mobility is the next major frontier in business communications, and it represents a great opportunity for VARs to help customers address a need they are struggling to address on their own. However, to assist customers in that migration the VAR must be prepared to assess the customer’s mobility requirements and have the right mix of products and expertise to deliver an effectively solution. When you look at how mobility has transformed consumer communications it is clear these same changes will reshape businesses. A non-integrated solution based on cell phones is an expensive short-term remedy at best. VARs who can help deliver integrated mobility solutions using VoWLAN and dual-mode fixed mobile convergence will be in the best position to develop a more profitable long-term relationship with the customer.

Wayne Seifried is the director of global portfolio marketing for enterprise mobility at Siemens Communications, Inc.