Texting, UC, and More: The Future of Business Communication

Once used almost exclusively by teens to express themselves in just a few keystrokes (LOL, OMG, BFF), text messaging has grown up. As proof of just how mainstream texting has become, the Pew Internet & Life Project found that older adults now make up the fastest-growing population of texters.

Texting is steadily making its way into the workplace. With the increase in BYOD and BYOA (bring your own app) policies redefining office environments, texting has become a staple of day-to-day communication between colleagues and even between employees and customers.

In many ways, 2013 was a year of enlightenment for businesses regarding mobile text messaging. Many leaders came to understand that text messaging is happening throughout their organizations and, as a result, the profound opportunity it presents.

The text messaging revolution is already under way. In HeyWire's recent survey of workplace professionals, 61 percent of respondents said they wanted to separate their business text messages from their personal text messages. In addition, a recent survey from RingCentral found that 32 percent of businesspeople reported closing a business deal via text.

We believe 2014 will be a year when this trend continues. Here are some predictions for 2014 trends and associated "bold predictions":

Viva the mobile app revolution...in the enterprise. Mobile technology continues to disrupt all types of industries/organizations. Over the past year, however, we have seen a particularly dramatic rise in the number of business users that embrace messaging solutions. According to one statistic, "messaging apps will reach 1.5 billion users next year."

Bold Prediction: What does that mean? A reach of 1.5 billion users means that organizations will continue to deploy mobile apps for business purposes in 2014. Text messaging should emerge as a leading catalyst to the mobile app revolution—particularly from cloud-based vendors who can offer security, reliability, and the ability to "save" messages for companies in highly regulated industries. A recent industry report from Frost and Sullivan characterized test messaging as the "missing piece of the communications stack that that we did not even know was missing."

We predict text messaging apps will continue to disrupt the traditional concepts and use cases associated with unified communications and will generate more than 100 million downloads in 2014.

Unified communications (UC) deployments are down...until UC is redefined. "As we close out 2013, it appears that once again mobile UC clients on smartphones and tablets remain the most overhyped and least utilized of communications technologies," according to a recent predictions piece in industry publication NoJitter.

According to a 2013 survey from Information Week, the percentage of companies reporting UC deployments advanced just 2 percent last year, from 36 percent to 38 percent—and among those who have deployed or are planning to deploy UC, 47 percent report serving a quarter or fewer of their users. When asked to what degree various UC elements were being used in their organizations, mobile UC clients ranked near the bottom, along with "social networking," "voice over Wi-Fi," and "softphones." UC deployment trailed smartphones, tablets, and other deployments significantly.

Bold Prediction: UC will be redefined in 2014 to include text messaging and expand the focus to a mobile first, any-screen approach. Companies will expand these initiatives beyond mobile devices to include landline, desktop, and cloud-based solutions that allow users to select a platform to communicate with colleagues both within and beyond their organization's four walls. We predict that "new" UC deployments that embrace text messaging will climb significantly in 2014, with more than half of companies adding them to their arsenal.

What's old is new again—thanks to BYOD. Businesses will increase simplicity in their enterprise communications by replacing declining communications channels such as voicemail with services that increasingly mobile employees will actually embrace on their devices. We'll go so far as to predict that what was once considered old—both SMS and business landline phones—will become new again. (Sixty-one percent of businesses participating in the RingCentral survey wished they could send and receive messages from their business number!)

Bold Prediction: Texting among businesspeople ages 40 to 50 will triple in 2014—mainly because their customers demand it. As businesses come to realize the potential of texting to help solve customer issues in real time and to improve two-way communication, the use of text messaging in business by businesspeople will continue to grow.

BYOD—driving users to separate business from personal. Business apps will continue to evolve and serve the distinct needs of employees (and their organizations) that prefer to separate business and personal communications. Employees now demand, rather than prefer, to use their own mobile and tablet devices for business purposes, and communications/messaging are certainly a priority. But the issues with BYOD, aside from security and compliance concerns, revolve around employees' inability to effectively use these devices in a fashion that clearly delineates apps and functions as business versus personal. Text messaging technology offers employees the ability to simplify their business lives by creating a single phone number with text capabilities for business, while also allowing them to keep their personal cell number personal.

Additionally, the growth in mobile device management (MDM) and mobile app management (MAM) will help accelerate this trend. As additional platforms are available that embrace landlines, mobile devices, and employee-owned devices, the growth of MDM and MAM will drive adoption of these solutions that separate business and personal text-based communications.

Bold Prediction: This will be the year that businesses realize the full potential of SMS for two-way communication. In fact, SMS could catch up with and overtake the huge volume of SMS used today for A2P. Businesses will increasingly come to understand the role that text messaging can play as a highly efficient channel to solve business problems and strengthen customer relationships.

Meredith Flynn-Ripley is CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Heywire.

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