Helen remembered back when there was a company phone tree. If a message needed to be communicated – like a snowstorm closing the office that day – she would receive a call from Joe. Once he gave Hellen the message, she had to phone two colleagues and let them know. Each of those colleagues would then call two others and in a matter of minutes, the entire company would know what was going on. When the company issued smartphones to all the employees, the phone tree was replaced with email announcements. But many employees didn’t think to check email on their phones when they were away from work, so key messages were missed. Eventually the CIO decided to implement a secondary communication strategy in these cases:  SMS.

two people text messaging on cell phones

Cell phone use has exploded in recent years, making SMS an efficient way to communicate with your team.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Simple messaging service” (or text messaging) has proven to be a low-cost way to communicate information between devices that includes a few advantages over email. Primarily, text messages are received almost immediately on a device and consume a fraction of the data needed to transmit a full email. (Emails average 30KB in size while most text messages are between 2-10KB.) Comparatively, many mobile devices only receive email when the user performs an action or refreshes their mailbox. One critical difference effecting business environments and developing nations alike is the fact that SMS technology is available on feature-phones. In other words, users don’t need an expensive smartphone with an accompanying (and similarly expensive) data plan to realize the full benefit of SMS communication. As a result, communication can be achieved near-instantaneously at little cost and across a greater number of mobile devices then if the sender were using email.

The quick adoption of SMS technology as a primary communication protocol came in an unlikely place: schools. One of the first notable uses of SMS technology in a campus environment came in the spring of 2007 when an assailant opened fire on staff and classmates at Virginia Tech University. School administrators moved fast to communicate with students via SMS about what was taking place, what parts of campus were safe, and what protocol should be followed throughout the day. Distributing information to students using an outdated system like a phone tree would have been wildly inefficient from both a technical and informational perspective. SMS messaging allowed the administration to send near-continuous updates quickly and easily; if a building was locked-down or off-limits, students would know in a matter of moments.

This same efficiency can be applied to your business, whether you’re using it to update staff with a company-wide alert or market information to your customer base. SMS in the enterprise means that vendors can send promotional offers to clients in a new way. Customers can answer surveys or provide feedback from the convenience of a mobile device instead of having to access a web form or survey. Employees can communicate quickly and in short formats, dispensing of the formality of an email or phone call when all that is needed is a simple answer or small piece of input. SMS technology has changed the way businesses communicate with employees and customers alike.

But while the practical uses of text messaging are evolving quickly in both business and consumer segments, and the advantages of SMS communication are apparent, the challenges facing this technology in the enterprise are significant. Consider the following challenges faced by organizations as SMS becomes more and more prevalent for their team members:

  • Security – As SMS becomes a popular way to communicate with customers, organizations must give consideration to the security of these devices. Exchanging confidential information (pricing and contacts for example) via unencrypted SMS gives nefarious parties like hackers and competitors yet another point of entry to your proprietary data. Requiring all employee devices to require a passcode for use is a great first step, but the security challenges tied to SMS are only just now being understood in the enterprise. It goes without saying that continued vigilance in protecting all company data, including that exchanged via SMS, will remain paramount to company success.
  • Management and Monitoring – While there are some tools available that allow IT administrators to monitor SMS activity, the rise of BYOD (“Bring your own device”) programs in the enterprise mean that managing the SMS activity of devices on different platforms and through different carriers can be both complicated and expensive. Some companies try to standardize the mobile devices used by employees or place all employees on the same carrier to ease the monitoring burden. That said, monitoring SMS activity remains substantially more difficult then monitoring email.
  • HR Compliance – Most employees know that certain online material is off limits when using company computers, and most employees realize there are certain things they shouldn’t be writing (or reading) in company email. But what about on a company issued or supported mobile device? There is often no way to delineate between personal use and professional use on a mobile device. As a result, organizational HR policies regarding mobile device use can be difficult to define.

The efficiency of SMS technology in the enterprise comes with many challenges, and how companies address these challenges both internally and with third party services and applications will go a long way in determining how prevalent and widespread the use of SMS in the enterprise continues to be. Click here to learn how Mosaic NetworX can help you deploy and manage SMS communication technology for your business!