Mobile Messaging - The Missing Piece to UC
The enterprise communications space is undergoing a transition from voice-centric collaboration to video, Web, and instant messaging…but are we missing out on text messaging?
You see it everywhere you look around; individuals of all ages with their heads bent over their phones, texting friends, family, and co-workers. CTIA reported that by the end of 2012, texting use equaled or exceeded voice minute use. But spend time with UC vendors, or those responsible for UC architecture, and texting rarely comes up as a key enterprise communications focus area. Rather most of the effort, and spending, is still focused around voice, video, instant messaging, Web conferencing, and integrating those services into each other and into other business applications.
So this disconnect creates a bit of a conundrum: If I'm spending all my time focusing on what I guess you could call "traditional" UC, and my employees are increasingly spending their time texting from their mobile devices for their internal and external communications, am I missing something? More importantly, am I spending money on something that will receive less and less use over time? And perhaps most importantly, What are my workers using to text, and does it fit into my governance and compliance strategy?
In my conversations with enterprise UC architects, few have incorporated a text messaging strategy into their UC plans. Most know that their workers are frequently using SMS, Apple's iMessage, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Kik, Facebook Messenger or some other application to communicate both internally and externally, but two factors limit their ability to address those services as part of an overall collaboration: lack of awareness of enterprise solutions, and lack of ownership for mobile collaboration strategies.
Let's start with the latter first. Most companies have a mobility strategy, but that strategy is primarily focused on device security and management, though more recently it's morphing into a growing focus on extending business applications to mobile devices, and developing ways to leverage mobility to innovate and improve business process. The mobility managers aren't worrying about collaboration applications; they are looking at the larger picture of mobility's impact on the overall organization and the opportunities to leverage mobile platforms to deliver new services or reduce costs.
The UC team's perspective on mobility is still largely focused around extending the desktop environment to mobile devices; leveraging clients like Cisco Jabber, Lync, and Avaya one-X to extend desktop voice, IM, Web conferencing and video to mobile users. But since most UC vendors don't yet have a solution for incorporating text messaging into their UC platforms, few companies are considering it in their UC plans.
More recently, options for enterprises to gain control of mobile messaging, and incorporate it into their UC strategies have begun to emerge. Examples include HeyWire Business (which powers Avaya's Messaging Service), RingCentral, ZipWhip, and solutions from carriers including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. These services enable use of existing DID numbers for sending and receiving text messages, though they use a separate client from existing UC clients. They all offer the ability for enterprise IT managers to apply governance controls to messaging stores, enabling features like message retention and archiving.
Another class of mobile messaging services does not yet integrate into UC platforms or existing telephony environments, but instead enables enterprises to provide a new stand-alone mobile messaging service. Examples include TeleMessage, Voxer, and Voxox. For companies with large field forces, these services may become the preferred channel for internal and external communications for mobile and desktop users, resulting in a lessening demand for UC. Think of them as modern-day push-to-talk (PTT).
Longer term, I expect that we'll see UC vendors rapidly integrate mobile messaging capabilities into their platforms. Third-party plugins for some popular applications already exist (e.g. Geomant and Vytru's SMS Lync connectors). Cisco's Jabber enables outbound SMS from mobile phones as well. Cloud UC services like ShoreTel Sky and many of those based on Broadsoft's application server already offer messaging capabilities as part of their offerings.
Bottom line: Make sure mobile messaging is part of your UC strategy. Evaluate offerings and future capabilities from your UC vendors while also evaluating newer business offerings from an array of startups. Expect before long that mobile messaging will be a standard feature in both on-premises and hosted UC applications, while stand-alone offerings will offer integration with leading UC solutions.