For wireless providers, it has been a tempting prospect to serve the public sector in a different way to the enterprise market. After all, the public sector doesn’t spend ‘real money’ to generate profits, it spends our hard-earned tax revenues to deliver services. Equally, the enterprise sector is profit driven and funded, in general, by private investors looking for profit growth.
However, Jon Rutherford, head of large business and public sector marketing at Vodafone, doesn’t see such a crisp demarcation. ‘The needs of the user, employer and organisation are broadly similar between businesses and the public sector,’ says Rutherford.
‘Clearly, the objectives are different. The public sector needs to provide services effectively and efficiently and the private sector needs to run their business to make a return to their investors and satisfy their customers.’
The tools to address either sector are the same. Unified communications, a loose term that has often been used to describe services that aren’t especially unified and sometimes haven’t even addressed effective communication, has long been identified as a way for organisations to deliver efficiency, employee satisfaction and new ways of working.
However, initial definitions of unified communications bizarrely ignored mobile, thankfully that’s changing as the term shifts in emphasis towards collaborative working. ‘Mobile is most definitely integral to unified communications now,’ he says.
‘UC was originally approached from a technical perspective but it is now much more rounded.’
That creates a series of issues for organisations. ‘It is very different in mobile compared to fixed line,’ says Rutherford.
‘In the fixed environment, employees had very little say in the device they used and they didn’t care if their deskphone was grey or beige, but mobile is very fashion conscious and employees are actively choosing what they want. Professional services companies are looking at what IT offerings to give their latest graduate intakes in order to recruit them in the first place.’
The proliferation of mobile devices creates a series of problems for organisations, not least the need to ensure security and institute policy regarding allowing devices to connect to the corporate network.
‘With mobile, you have a very small, very cost effective device, but in terms of security organisations need to ensure users are aware of the risks and set policies regarding how users can bring their own devices to the enterprise network.’
Surely it was just as dangerous when employees could leave the corporate office with sensitive material in their brief cases?
‘The big difference is the size of the briefcase,’ quips Rutherford. ‘Briefcase size was limited but I’d estimate that 50% of emails I get have an attachment, so when you add up all that, each employee is carrying a fairly weighty asset with them. The security risk is not overplayed, it’s very much underplayed.’
Bad news is good news for UC
Unified communications seems to have come to prominence on the back of a series of disasters. Swine flu, the Icelandic volcano and airline strikes have all appeared to generate uptake of remote working. And, added to the impact of the recession and the continuing need to be seen to be green and the drivers all seem to be in place for increased usage. Rutherford doesn’t think the bad news created the demand, it just made people aware of the UC alternative. ‘It’s all about change and less about bad news,’ he says.
‘All those events changed people’s behaviour. They might have been bad things but, regardless of them, people might have wanted to work from home, a remote office or the client premises. The good thing about UC and collaboration becoming more accepted is that users can change and be more effective and more responsive.’
Significantly, Rutherford doesn’t see the unified communications market as exclusively the preserve of the equipment vendors such as Cisco or Avaya. ‘In the small business market, we’re clearly the headline service provider,’ he says.
‘We have an offering called OneNet, which provides a fixed-mobile integrated, single number for SMBs while in the bigger business sector and with large public sector customers we see a number of different roles for Vodafone.’
Those roles include being a partner with IT and hardware vendors in addition to being the headline service provider. ‘It depends on what benefits the organisation is trying to get from UC,’ says Rutherford. ‘Our role can change but it can be very important for the customer that we’re the headline service provider that can deliver everything they need.’
Rutherford says Vodafone has a unique enterprise mobility proposition compared to its competitors. ‘We’re different because our offerings are hosted by us and they are cost effective,’ he says. ‘You don’t have to buy individual products from multiple vendors if you work with us. For instance, we sell indoor coverage, have made huge investments in our data network and provide dedicated service and support for enterprise customers.’
Vodafone now works with Microsoft to implement the software giant’s business productivity solutions and offers those as an enterprise-grade service to enterprise and public sector organisations. He doesn’t see the likes of Google Apps as a threat to either Vodafone’s small or large enterprise customer base. ‘Our role is to provide the right services, if that involves providing the apps as well, of course we’ll do it,’ he says.
‘We provide the flexibility of mobile but also have the ability to provide fixed-line services.’
Looking to the future, Rutherford sees the worlds of fixed and mobile continuing to converge, aided by new devices and the extension of enterprise applications out into the field and the home office.
‘One of the greatest technical innovations is around tablet PCs,’ he says. ‘Those bring two functions – the PC and the smartphone – together in a compelling way. It will be one of the biggest innovations to become widely accepted. The apps are limitless.’
Even in the recession and with budget cuts of 20-40% looming over the UK public sector, Rutherford believes wireless still has an impressive case to make. ‘Obviously, there’s a lot of change in the public sector at the moment as organisations consider the best way to deliver [their services to taxpayers] through the budget defecit,’ he says.
‘However, we have examples in the public sector that show the benefits wireless brings.
‘Cambridge County Council, for example, has used flexible working and converged communications to deliver cost savings of £1.2m. The council uses flexible working as means of reducing cost – it has a 7:10 desk ratio at its offices so 30% of its workers are either out of the office or working from home.
Meanwhile, at West Berkshire Council, using wireless more effectively has led to a 40% drop in operational costs as well significant reduction in commuter miles.’
It is those sorts of numbers that even in the gloom of balancing the budget, ensure the wireless proposition is still a winner.