The Importance of Embracing a Mobile-First Philosophy

Posted by David Lover on Mar 26, 2020 10:00:00 AM

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I’m always a little surprised when I meet with a company that hasn’t embraced a mobile-first philosophy when it comes to deploying its unified communications (UC) solutions. What does it mean to be mobile? We all know mobility is important. Once you have it, you really can’t imagine life before it. You know the saying: Work is what you do, not where you go. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every job function, but a lot of information worker-type jobs can be done from anywhere.

To me, there are two types of “mobility.” One is true mobility, where the user is on the move all the time: in a car, walking the plant floor, out visiting customers, on a job site, etc. This could seamlessly shift back and forth between inside the office and outside of the office. The second type is really more like what I think of as “portability,” which is almost exclusively thought of as being out of the office. With portability, you may be sitting at your desk all day—just like you would be at the office—but you’re somewhere else other than your main designated office. Maybe you’re at one of your other offices, at home, at a hotel room, or at a customer’s office.

The benefits of this are obvious. Suddenly, you’re able to draw from a wider geographically-based worker pool, retain employees who choose to relocate, embrace employees with disabilities that make it difficult for them to leave their home, ease rush-hour and commuter pain, and support people who want or need a more flexible work schedule. You may not even need a brick-and-mortar office space to house your employees anymore! With these benefits in mind, it’s easy to see why supporting a strong mobility policy is good business.

Let’s revisit the question of what it means to be mobile and go into some specifics. There are several main considerations that arise when supporting remote users, including:

1. To BYOD or not to BYOD?

The decision to make here is whether or not you want to allow employees to use their personal device (iPhone, Android, tablet, laptop, etc.) to participate in the UC ecosystem. Typically, this means deciding whether or not you want to let them run the Enterprise UC apps on their personal device. To fast forward to the end of the movie… the answer is absolutely yes, as long as you’re taking steps to secure the application and the traffic. The bigger question is if having that device should become a requirement for your employees’ job. If the answer is yes, you will need to decide if you want to provide an expense allocation or simply give employees a company-owned device.

2. To VPN or not to VPN?

I’m a little biased here. I hate VPNs, especially the traditional IPSec VPNs where you install a thick VPN client on your device, you log in to a VPN concentrator, and everything on your VPN-connected device can talk to everything behind the concentrator. At a technical level, it is not nearly as secure as you may think. That VPN client/concentrator connection is simply encrypting the network tunnel between the two devices, leaving it unencrypted the rest of the time. Modern applications use TLS to encrypt the traffic itself, as it’s being created. You can send it to its destination, which understands the encryption and can decrypt it inside that application. In this modern scenario, traffic in transit never exists in an unencrypted state. Sure, you may need VPNs for legacy applications that don’t do TLS encryption, but most modern UC apps certainly do.

From a non-technical perspective, VPNs damage the usability of UC applications. “Oh, I think someone might be calling me, so I better launch my VPN now.” The problem is that people don’t always schedule collaboration. It often happens on the fly. UC applications should be ready to use without requiring yet another step in the process before collaboration can truly begin.

3. Hardphone, Softphone, or Mobile Client?

The short answer here is yes to all three. Don’t mandate anything. A good UC solution makes the support of ALL of these types of endpoints seamless and easy, for both the user and the administrator. The reality is that some people love their hardphone, some love their softphone, and some are truly “mobile” and can only use their iPhone/Android effectively. I see a lot of companies try to mandate softphones in an attempt to save costs. Clearly, they’re not doing the math. Headsets alone complicate the math. Softphones, especially in today’s modern “open” workspaces (i.e., minimal cubes/offices) require headsets. Headsets generally cost more than a hardphone and don’t get anywhere near the life that a hardphone does. Wireless headsets are really tough on the numbers. They may last a year, or maybe two if you’re lucky. Even with cheaper, wired headsets, no one wants a redeployed headset. That’s just gross. The point here is that with the right UC solution, let your end users choose what works best for them. Doing so will allow you to naturally strike the right balance between cost and usability.

4. Mobile Device Management or not?

Some people feel very strongly about leveraging a Mobile Device Management (MDM) platform. I think this tends to fall into a couple of different decision points. One is on security. If you are using legacy applications that require a VPN, then I think MDM is critical. As mentioned earlier, VPN into a concentrator from an unsecured device is asking for trouble. With modern UC applications that are properly encrypted and password-protected (at the application level), MDM isn’t a hard requirement.

Containerization of applications is also often a concern. In my opinion, iOS and Android do a fairly good job of keeping applications separate from one other so that they don’t automatically give each other access to resources they shouldn’t have access to. If you want the added protection, MDM can take that containerization to a very high level, completely walling off personal space from business space and even ensuring that end users don’t approve access that they shouldn’t be approving.

Another thing that MDM can really help with is support, by making it easier to get the applications and their configurations installed correctly. When a user does call in for support, the helpdesk has better visibility into the device that is hosting the application. MDM can create an environment that is more consistent, and therefore more easily supported.

5. SIP versus H.323

This is a no brainer. If you have a choice, SIP is almost always a better option than H.323 for UC applications. They usually navigate firewalls and NAT (i.e., Network Address Translation) better. Also, assuming the manufacturer leverages it, there is support in the SIP protocol to fork signaling and media, thereby allowing multiple devices/clients to act as the same user. This gives me the choice to make it so that if someone calls my phone number, it will ring on my hardphone in my office, the hardphone in my home office, my softphone, my iPad, and my iPhone—allowing me to answer the call from the device of my choosing, and easily switch between devices as I please, even in the middle of a conversation. SIP is the far more flexible signaling protocol that can easily be encrypted with TLS, allowing me to do so much more than just voice. Think things like video, presence, and application initiation/integration, which are all commonly supported.

Have you taken the time to firm up your remote worker and mobility strategy? It’s time to empower your employees to work with the devices of their choosing. Fail to do so and you may lose out on them—and a great deal of top talent whom you’d otherwise never have access to in the first place.

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Topics: Unified Communications, Mobility, Remote Working, COVID-19


David Lover
David Lover  -- David is a leader in our Office of the CTO and works with every part of the business. From Sales to Professional Services, from senior leadership to end-users, from overall business strategy to nuts and bolts technical understanding, his skills at identifying, articulating, and managing our strategic technology direction to customers, partners, and employees sets ConvergeOne apart as a leader in our industry. David is a former Senior Engineer at Lucent Technologies and Avaya and has applied communications technologies in a business environment for large Fortune 500 and Enterprise multi-site corporations. David is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and presenter at numerous industry conferences, forums, and seminars across the United States. He has built tremendous, strategic relationships with analysts and manufacturers alike, insuring relevancy and the best possible “future state” outcome for ConvergeOne and its customers.