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Monday, 11 April 2011 10:27

UC vendors fight back against tablets in the enterprise

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The push by employees at all levels to integrated their tablet devices into their employers' IT environment has been well documented. Less widely reported have been the moves by big unified communications vendors, Cisco and Avaya, to counter this trend and maintain their grip on the enterprise unified communications market.

Both Cisco's and Avaya's alternatives to 'consumer' tablets are Android based, although their approaches are rather different.

Cisco announced its Cius last June, billing it as "a first-of-its-kind mobile collaboration business tablet that delivers virtual desktop integration with anywhere, anytime access to the full range of Cisco collaboration and communication applications." An interesting aspect of the Cius is that it can operate as a tablet or be plugged into a docking station that converts it into a deskphone-with-screen.

Cisco promised that customer trials of Cisco Cius would begin in the third quarter of calendar year 2010, with general availability in the first quarter of calendar year 2011. That schedule appears to have slipped somewhat and it is only now about to start deploying Cius with selected customers.

To co-incide with this deployment Tom Puorro, senior director of product management, unified communications solution at Cisco made a posting on Cisco's blog enumerating "some key areas'¦that you may want to consider as you sort through the landscape of tablet options available to you to change your business processes."

A month earlier he had said much the same thing in another posting " Choosing a Tablet for the Enterprise." Neither was a direct promotion for the benefits of the Cius over 'consumer' tablet devices, but nevertheless that message came across pretty clearly.

Cisco can come up with hardware innovations, like the docking station, and can tightly integrate Cius functionality into its own UC and collaboration offerings, but it is questionable whether this will be enough to hold back the tide of employee-owned tablets. These are becoming so deeply entwined with their owners' lives that they want to bring them to work and use them for both work and personal purposes.

They certainly won't want to lug around both a work tablet and a personal tablet, which makes the approach taken by Avaya - for whom tablet seems to be dirty word - potentially more interesting. Avaya announced "the Avaya Flare Experience" last September as part of a suite of products, but you could read the entire announcement without getting any indication that there was a tablet device in there.

CONTINUED

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Nothing much has changed since. The current product brochure says: "Avaya Flare Experience is an innovative interface that redefines end-user communications. Implemented on the Avaya Desktop Video Device, it simplifies the user's ability to access and interact with communication and collaboration tools, making teamwork more effective."

But guess what? This "Avaya Desktop Video Device" as the illustration on the brochure clearly shows, is a tablet, although you won't find that word anywhere in the brochure.

Today the Avaya Flare Experience is an Android application that runs only on Avaya's 'tablet', but according to a report earlier this month Avaya's intent is to evolve it into an application for other Android devices and for other smartphone and tablet operating systems, specifically, Apple, RIM and Windows, by year end.

This approach might find more favour with tablet owning employees, but of course the big concern about bringing these devices into the enterprise has been lack of security. Even though both Cisco and Avaya are using Android, so long as they control the hardware they should be able to address some of these concerns. But once Avaya starts to run Flare on standard hardware it will lose that advantage.

However Android is evolving rapidly such that by the time Avaya gets to offer Flare on other Android devices, some of the security gaps may have been filled. Earlier this month Google announced on its blog "three more updates to our Android for business portfolio around security and connecting with colleagues."

The two addressing security issues were
- With the new version of the Google Apps Device Policy app, employees can quickly secure a lost or stolen Android 2.2+ device by locating it on a map, ringing the device, and resetting the device PIN or password remotely via the new My Devices website.
- Google Apps administrators have an option in the control panel to "Encrypt Data on Device", which will now include requiring encrypted storage on Android 3.0 tablets. Devices will need version 2.0 of the Google Apps Device Policy app.

There will certainly be a market for dedicated, specialised tablets as part of any UC vendor's portfolio, but my bet is, like the Avaya Flare, that functionality, or at least a substantial subset of it will have to be available on the devices employees own and use for themselves.

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