SMS texts unofficially part of companies' social collaboration arsenal

Fast and effective communication is imperative for enterprises, and the use of SMS texts adds to a company's social collaboration arsenal.

Effective and fast communication is essential within an enterprise, and there are many new social collaboration technologies to accomplish that goal, but text messages get the job done just as well, and many companies are using them in new ways.

Short message service (SMS) texts can serve as the lifeline for mobile workers.

It's idiot-proof.

Kathryn Weldon,
research director, Current Analysis

"It's ideal if you're in the field," said Kathryn Weldon, research director for business network and IT services and who also covers enterprise mobility for Current Analysis, a research firm based in Sterling, Va. "It's idiot-proof and easy to use. It allows someone to see a quick message or get a quick response."

A field technician can use SMS texts if there is a problem, they need information, or if a technician needs to be rerouted, Weldon said.

Businesses now use SMS as a communication tool for a variety of purposes, including a replacement for paper documents.

"You can send texts as receipts for apps like Square," said Bob Egan, CEO and founder and executive advisor on mobile business strategies and technologies at The Sepharim Group, a mobile consulting company based in Falmouth, Mass. "You're seeing that in doctors' offices too with reminders for appointments. With SMS, all that time you're wasting goes away. SMS is direct and actionable."

Texting is also an effective alternative to email for coordination and collaboration.

"People have grammatically figured out how to say powerful messages with a limited amount of characters on Twitter and are translating that to using SMS," Egan said.

Seventy percent of enterprises use SMS as part of their business strategy, and another 16% plan to use it in the next 12 months, according to a recent study by Seattle-based OpenMarket, a provider of mobile communications solutions for enterprises.

Though the survey was quite small -- responses came from just 167 North American B2C mobile channel decision-makers and people responsible for mobile strategies -- the information did reflect the larger picture of corporate SMS use.

Texting is easy, but hard to control

While texting can have a positive impact on an enterprise, there are challenges that can hinder its use.

"One problem is SMS is tied to the device, so if you don't have your device or if the battery is dead, then you won't get the SMS right away," said Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless and mobile technologies based in Ashland, Mass.

The question of controlling what information comes in and what goes out can be a challenge for enterprise IT.

"[Texting is] all beyond the control of IT unless it's on a company phone," Egan said. "Should IT be involved? The same could be said with a conversation in the hallway. Should IT be involved there? If IT is about limitations, than it's like a government organization."

Enterprise IT and employees also fear texts could get lost or stored somewhere, especially in regulated markets.

"Is it stored forever?" Weldon said. "If a company is in a highly regulated [industry] like healthcare or finance, the fear is the text could be archived."

Communication within a government organization can be particularly difficult, Egan said, referring to a government contract he once worked on. Information has to be tracked all the time.

IT policies exclude SMS

Few enterprises include SMS in their mobile policies.

"In my experience, most don't have mobile security policies or are in the process of constructing one," Mathias said. "They should be designed to facilitate. We want to get things done at the lowest cost and move information as fast as possible to beat out the competition, but [at the same time] not expose sensitive information to other people."

However, if an enterprise has a policy about not communicating sensitive information to an outside party, than an SMS would qualify as breaching, Mathias added. But most don't do that.

"Expect a rise in encrypting texts in the future," Mathias said. "There will be complete transparency with the user. If you're on our network and use your phone, we can encrypt your [texts]."

SMS isn't secure, so employees should be instructed to never send anything secret over an unsecure channel, Mathias added.

Some companies haven't taken advantage of SMS or don't see it as a priority for various reasons. Part of it is cultural, especially with older people who don't text much and prefer to talk, Mathias said. It's something that must be learned.

There are plenty of other technologies besides SMS that are valuable tools for enterprises to engage in with their employees and customers, including social collaboration tools such as Microsoft's Yammer, AOL's Instant Messenger, Twitter and Facebook -- all of which are cloud-based and can be accessed from any device.

In general, it's preferential that communication not be bound to a handset, Mathias said.

"You'd rather be able to access communication anywhere and be virtualized from any device," Mathias said. "That's what we're going through. It'll be the most cost-effective approach to use in the long run."

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