Text: The Hottest Mobile Topic at EC18?
Of all the mobility topics on tap for Enterprise Connect 2018, the one I'm watching most closely is text.
Text has become an indispensible communications tool for business users and an essential element in Internet marketing. Text is also a market where the UC providers have been largely shut out. The other factor that makes this technology area so interesting is that the text market poses many of the same challenges that the UC suppliers faced a few years back in addressing the mobile market, an area where they remain a non-factor to this day. From a macro standpoint, this is another arena where traditional enterprise suppliers are being pitted against consumer mobile technologies.
Text and UC cross paths in two important areas: internal employee-to-employee (E2E) chat and external business-to-consumer (B2C) chat. The former falls under the purview of UC&C and team collaboration platforms, while the latter is an enormously important factor in the contact center business. So for both cloud and premises-based UC providers, both applications represent significant revenue streams.
To begin with, everyone loves text, but the text market is populated by some very powerful players. "Text" comes in a lot of different forms, the UC platforms being just one of them. Looking at the text market, I break the options down into three major segments:
- Mobile Operator Provided SMS and MMS: This is the least common denominator in mobile texting. This option represents a minimal functionality offering (though the carriers hope to change that with Rich Communications Services (RCS) should Apple ever decide to join in) that has the unique advantage of being able to reach every mobile phone on earth via telephone numbers. On a mobile device the SMS/MMS capability is often integrated with other messaging functions (e.g. Apple Messages). Through communications platform as a service (CPaaS), UC&C, and other mechanisms, we can now extend SMS via IP networks to select wired devices.
- Premium Texting Platforms: This would include a few obvious choices and potentially some others. Apple Messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger dominate the U.S. market today, and others like WeChat have built somewhat unique ecosystems in other parts of the world. Besides their obvious popularity, the other key feature of the premium services is that they can be selective about with whom they interconnect. And if you do get to interconnect, it will be on their terms.
- Specialized Texting Systems: This is the category where UC&C and team collaboration texting capabilities reside. This category would also include Web chat systems and the specialized secure archivable texting solutions that are required in government, financial services, and other security-sensitive environments. What characterizes these options is their closed nature (most don't even interconnect with SMS), and the inherent frailty of their raison d'etre. The question these suppliers must answer constantly just to stay in business, is, "What do I need you for, anyway?"
Now let's take a closer look at the two areas where text and UC intersect, E2E texting and B2C communications.
The case of employee-to-employee (E2E) texting in UC&C and team collaboration platforms is most closely aligned with what we saw in the mobile UC debacle. Once again we have the UC community going head to head with one of the most creatively powerful industries on earth, consumer mobility.
As with mobile UC, the challenge for UC&C and team collaboration will be that raison d'etre. Outside of regulated industries where there are strict mandates surrounding the use of defined secure texting alternatives, the vast majority of enterprise texting today uses the familiar consumer tools. I haven't seen any serious market research on that, but just look around. So as was the case with mobile UC, we'll be asking users to change their behavior.
Mobile UC provided the ability to make a phone call just like you could already do with your mobile phone. The only difference was, the mobile UC way was far less convenient. The ability for mobile UC developers to integrate the iPhone dialer with Apple's CallKit to deliver an "almost seamless" user experience was a step in the right direction, but I've yet to see any major user uptake as a result.
The mobile UC app could offer some features of nebulous value like the ability to view your contacts' presence status or to keep your cell number private, but opening a mobile UC app just to make a business phone call was simply too big an ask for the vast majority of users.
UC&C and team collaboration texting presents a similar challenge, to wit: I can send a business text to internal or external correspondents today with the same familiar tool I use to text to my spouse -- why change? I noted as early as 2014, team collaboration solutions could turn the tide for mobile UC. That argument was predicated on the hope that users would flock to these new tools and come to depend on them to coordinate much of their day-to-day work. With this dynamic, mobile access would become indispensible. I'm waiting to see how widely and how rapidly enterprise team collaboration solutions catch on to gauge how effective they are at redirecting that texting behavior.
Click to the next page for a closer look at B2C