NextPlane Blog

Mobile-First or Die: UC Vendors’ Crucible

Aug 19, 2014 1:00:00 PM

Mobile-firstAccording to Mary Meeker, in 2013, there were more smartphone users than laptop and desktop users put together, a clear indication that these kinds of devices are working to replace traditional computers.

The data speaks for itself: In December 2013, Americans spent 34 hours on their smartphones and tablets accessing the Web, according to Nielsen. During that same time period, they spent only 27 hours accessing the Web via a computer.On a global level, 14 percent of all Web traffic was routed through smartphones in May 2013. Fast-forward a year later, and that number grew to 25 percent, according to Meeker’s “Internet Trends – 2014” report. In other words, more people are using their smartphones for Web access than ever before. As networks get faster, this trend is expected to continue.

In addition to those figures, society is trending toward messaging apps. According to Meeker’s report, the frequency of communication is becoming more important than reaching a large audience. In other words, it might be more important for a brand to reach its audience through apps like Snapchat that allow for frequent communication than to post one or two messages on Facebook each day, despite the fact that many more people will see those types of posts. (In fact, according to Meeker, though it’s only been around for a little more than two years, 1.2 billion messages are sent through Snapchat each day.)

We’ve almost approached the tipping point where mobile devices will replace traditional computers in both our personal and professional lives. In fact, some may say it’s already here.

Mobility is Good for Business

By 2016, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be mobile, according to Gartner. As such, many businesses are focusing on developing mobile strategies—if they have not already done so—as the tools their employees need to do their jobs have evolved.

In a recent survey, 73 percent of companies indicated that the number of employees using mobile devices for collaboration will increase over the next two years.

This indicates a fundamental paradigm shift driven by the freedom that mobility offers. A few years ago, the prospect of being able to complete all of your job functions from a mobile device might have seemed like a fantasy. But that fantasy has become a reality today, thanks to the evolution of technology.

“Today I run my business from my phone,” CEO Marc Benioff said at a recent technology conference. “I could have never imagined that a few years ago.” When you move on down the totem pole, many employees rely on these smartphones and tablets to accomplish a majority of their tasks as well, and in a similar vein, one could reasonably expect that number of tasks will continue to increase in the coming years.

As more employees leave the confines of their office, they will gravitate to mobile-first solutions to succeed at their jobs. And no matter the vertical, those tools include collaboration and communication apps.

By leveraging mobile-first communication tools, these employees can collaborate with one another anytime and from anywhere. This doesn’t necessarily have to fall within the typical hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as mobile devices are always on hand, generally speaking.

Knowledge Workers and the Rise of Mobile-First Enterprise Messaging Apps

That’s why we are beginning to see mobile-first messaging and collaboration apps and services from a new slew of startups such as Convo, Slack, Qip, Hall, Cotap and Qip.

As opposed to UC vendors’ mobile apps, which many view as an afterthought, these new startups’ mobile-first apps sync communications across all devices, create a seamless experience that incorporates file sharing and push notifications so as to ensure workers don’t miss critical communications.

These new collaboration services don’t require IT involvement or approval. Instead, they can be adopted by a team or department within a company in a matter of minutes. All it takes is one end-user to sign up, download the app and invite the rest of his or her team to join.

Given the freedom that mobility offers, knowledge workers will soon begin to adopt these mobile-first messaging apps as their primary collaboration tools, outside of the prying eyes of their IT departments.

But there is a dark side to all this freedom, and as such, it’s likely that we’ll see the balkanization of communications and collaboration applications within organizations—not to mention across them.

For example, Ted in finance uses Cotap to communicate with his team. Ted is also using Slack to share cost saving ideas with operations, Qip to discuss budgets with purchasing and procurement, and Google Hangouts to communicate with a service provider. That’s four different apps to chat with four different groups of people, and we all know that there are more than four groups of people we need to talk to in our professional lives.

Such a fragmented experience is antithetical to the whole notion of unified communications—the idea that all communications should be accessible through a central platform and client. Now, rather than having a seamless, streamlined communications experience, employees have to learn and flip through multiple apps to communicate with their coworkers and business partners.

Whereas unified communications were designed in part to enhance productivity, this shuffling back and forth between messaging apps on desktop and mobile devices is almost certain to be counterproductive, especially considering how hard it might be to remember which internal group or external business partner is using what messaging application.

On top of that, once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s impossible to put it back inside. That’s because once employees become familiar with using these new kinds of messaging apps, they’re not going to go back to their UC clients.

Unfortunately, IT has no control over this, because end users are either going to use the messaging solutions that they like or the ones that make it easier to connect with business partners. This means that a business might very well have invested a lot of money in a UC platform that nobody’s using anymore. Therein lies the seeds of the UC vendors’ demise.

It took companies years to plan, evaluate and deploy UC platforms. Today, within minutes, their employees can up-end that infrastructure by signing up for a new cloud-based messaging app, which are popping up like wild weeds.

Security and support are huge concerns that can blindside organizations. Since IT is not involved, there is no proper due diligence on:

  • How are these vendors protecting personal identifiable information (PII)?
  • What are the safeguards for making sure their infrastructure is not penetrated by hackers?
  • What happens to the customers’ important business communications when investors pull the plug on the service?
  • Do they have a proper 24x7 support infrastructure in place with comprehensive SLAs?

Freedom always comes at a price. As such, it’s important that IT departments balance their end-users’ needs for mobile-first collaboration and messaging apps with the security and safety of their organizations.

Topics: team collaboration, Slack, Hall, Convo, Snapchat,, collaboration applications, Mobile first applications