Evolution of Enterprise Mobile Messaging

Mobile technologies evolve at such a rapid pace that it is easy to miss critical transitions from one technology to another. This is particularly true for mobile messaging. Mobile messaging is a core technology in mobile apps. It has been around so long and is so pervasive that it is easy to think that everything interesting has been done already. But this is simply not the case.

Mobile messaging has evolved down two related, but distinct paths. On one side, there is consumer mobile messaging which involves person to person communications and social interaction. On the other, is what I call enterprise mobile messaging which includes messaging used in the context of businesses and organizations for both B2B and B2C use cases.

Before looking at enterprise messaging, let’s take a quick look at what has happened on the consumer side. Not that long ago, messaging was dominated by SMS. In a time before Twitter, SMS demonstrated that people had an insatiable appetite for sharing messages with fewer than 160 characters. In 2011, that number peaked at over 20 billion messages per day. Since that time, SMS usage has declined. Yet during that same period, IP messaging soared from modest levels to match and then overtake SMS messaging volumes. The rising popularity of apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, SnapChat, Instagram and others now dwarfs traditional SMS. In fact, messaging from WhatsApp alone surpassed the total number of messages sent via SMS globally in 2014. This remarkable shift is due to changing behaviors and the rising popularity of using apps to send rich messages that include images, stickers, voice, video and virtually any other kind of content imaginable. It is also due to pricing differences between the two technologies. Unlike SMS, IP messaging is often “free to use” in the context of a smartphone with a data plan.

When we look at how mobile messaging has evolved in the enterprise, it has taken a slightly different path. First generation enterprise mobile messaging, was dominated by a combination of SMS and mobile email. SMS was pervasive and used for both person-to-person chat and for text alerts or notifications. SMS was also used by businesses for promotions, frequently in combination with short codes. While mobile email was supported on earlier models of mobile handsets, it really became a breakout success on early smartphones such as BlackBerry.

Like the consumer transition, the rise of iPhone and Android changed everything. In this second generation of mobile messaging, mobile email remained a killer app, but dominance shifted away from BlackBerry to other vendors. Employees often purchased their own smartphones and companies scrambled to implement BYOD programs so employees could access business email on those devices. Also notable during this phase was the rise of push messaging supported by the IP based platforms we now know as APNS (from Apple) and GCM (from Google). Push messaging gave companies and developers a new way to send large numbers of messages to apps running on mobile devices. This was a good way to send bulk marketing and promotional offers to consumers in order to encourage them to open an app or take action. In some industries, companies also shifted to push messaging for alerts as an alternative to SMS.

Like the consumer transition from SMS to IP messaging, the business transition from SMS to push messaging and non-BlackBerry mobile email was also driven by a combination of changing behaviors as well as cost. More demand for smartphones running iOS and Android meant less demand for BlackBerry devices and software. Operator controlled SMS services are more costly for businesses than IP messaging. There was also a speed or performance advantage. Bulk IP messages (sent to many thousands or even millions of mobile phones) can be sent faster than they can with traditional SMS.

Unlike the consumer transition in which the move from SMS to IP messaging provided a good substitute, the enterprise transition from SMS to IP messaging was only partial. Enterprises shifting from BlackBerry frequently elected to pursue ActiveSync based technology on BYOD smartphones. However, push messaging was predominantly used for one way promotions and alerts. There was no common mechanism for sending messages back to servers or engaging in more interactive sessions with end users.

We are now on the cusp of the third generation of enterprise mobile messaging which promises to address the gaps in the second generation. This new wave will be characterized by the rise of more interactive messaging between businesses and end users – both employees and customers. By adding more robust mobile client SDKs and combining these with end-to-end services such as in-app messaging and publish/subscribe, enterprises will be able to build more integrated and interactive messaging solutions that go beyond the one way nature of push messaging today. This will enable new services that benefit end users and enterprises. Rather than broadly targeted promotions such as “30% Off Sale Ends Friday”, businesses will be able to leverage messaging technology to truly engage users in one-to-one marketing and real time support scenarios. Retailers can trigger ads that are more personal and relevant, and open two way conversations with customers to deepen engagement.

To see how this works, let’s consider an example. An etail store can send a message warning a customer that the item she purchased is on backorder. Rather than forcing her to call in, the message body can include simple options such as “Order a different size?” or “Order an alternate color?”. By extending the initial push message with an actionable response, relevant choices and the opportunity for a live interaction, we have created a platform for interaction and a way for customers to resolve an issue in a few simple taps.

Business can also harness this capability to empower employees and accelerate workflows. Scenarios like approving expense reports, travel requests or a capital purchase requisitions can be streamlined by moving them to mobile. Rather than sending an email or alert and requiring an employee to log in via his notebook to review and approve an item, these tasks can be handled easily from within the context of an app. A business can send a push message to the employee that includes an actionable response. If the employee needs to review supplementary information, that can be provided within the app. Richer mobile APIs and interactive messaging capability make this possible. Employees benefit by resolving tasks more quickly from their mobile phones and enterprises benefit by improving responsiveness and execution.

In the coming months, I expect to see growing momentum in the move to the latest generation of enterprise mobile messaging. Businesses will enhance mobile apps with new capabilities that deliver more integrated and interactive experiences. While the second generation of enterprise mobile messaging shifted the market from a more open approach to messaging that did not rely on BlackBerry or operator-centric SMS, this third generation will deliver on the promise of messaging by delivering broader use cases made possible by smarter clients, in-app messaging and publish/subscribe. Just as messaging has become a killer app in the consumer domain, enterprise mobile messaging will become a breakthrough capability for businesses.

To learn more about third generation mobile messaging, visit the Magnet Message page and download software for free today for use in your next mobile app.