Will enterprise mobile instant messaging overtake email?

Mobile instant messaging will become a standard way for employees to communicate over the next few years, but what options does the enterprise have?

Is mobile instant messaging the next big thing in the enterprise? Along with the proliferation of enterprise mobile apps, the answer could be yes.

By 2016, 4.3 billion people will have an email account -- and the same number of people should have an instant messaging (IM) account. Still, it is hard to say that mobile IM will completely take over mobile email.

Why is enterprise IT concerned about the rise of mobile instant messaging? Any written communication has the chance to expose the company to the risk of losing data. Judging by the sheer amount of free options for instant messaging, you can see how IT is worried that it cannot control company-related conversations happening on mobile devices.

Who are the mobile IM players?

You can put mobile instant messaging into four categories: third-party (free or mostly free apps), native messaging, enterprise mobility management and company infrastructure tools.

Third-party or free apps consist of apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Viber and WhatsApp. This category also consists of new players that are focused on the enterprise, such as Tigertext and Cotap.

Native apps consist of the native instant messaging that comes with your mobile device, such as BBM for Blackberry, Messages for Apple and Google talk for Android.

Enterprise mobility management tools have some of the same characteristics as Tigertext and Cotap in that they encrypt their IM strings and keep the company instant messaging sessions separate from the native device instant messaging sessions.

Company infrastructure tools now have mobile apps to accompany them, too. Tools such as Lync, Yammer and IBM Sametime have apps that support their instant messaging infrastructure. These apps have traditionally offered far less of a usable experience than their desktop counterparts but are getting better with each upgrade.

Do users want mobile instant messaging?

Just like breaking down use of a tablet vs. smartphone vs. laptop, different communication methods have different purposes. If you want a more formal communication that reaches many people, with attachments and a way to let the recipient read the message on their own terms, then email is your method. If you want a quick conversation that warrants a quick response, then IM is your method. Add the fact that Millennials may be 30-50% of your workforce in a few years, and mobile IM may be the standard form of communication in the future.

So would employees of your company even use the enterprise-provided instant messaging option, or would they just use their native messaging platform or an app like Snapchat or Viber?

This is the same argument as the one regarding company-offered productivity apps vs. someone’s personal productivity apps. As an enterprise, if you offer a tool that is easy to use and you provide the proper training, your employees will be more likely to use these tools. Sometimes, instant messaging does not fall under a guideline or policy, nor do users know if they are even using the company-provided tool.

Several of my co-workers have contacts set up in either their company EMM contact list or their native contact list. When they select a name to send an IM, they gravitate toward whatever is easier for them. Usually, it ends up being the native client because they find that more natural.

Do users need an enterprise mobile instant messaging tool? Yes. Will enterprises adopt a tool outside their EMM or infrastructure options? No. The consumerization of IT is still very new for most organizations, and they are focused on managing devices, email and apps. Most organizations will wait for Microsoft and the EMM tools to keep improving their apps to provide an IM tool for their employees. Otherwise, a large breach resulting in data loss will spur on optimal tools for enterprise mobile instant messaging.

This was first published in May 2014

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