Enterprise Instant Messaging: The rise of the messaging app

Rob Borley
by
on 20 February 2014

Although games seem to attract the most attention in mobile app stores, the sleeper hit last year was actually in the messaging space. Blackberry’s BBM app finally went multi-platform in October 2013 and became an instant hit with over 10 million downloads in the first day of release.

Facebook purchase Whatsapp

But BBM is just one app competing in a congested category. Google Talk (primarily Android), iMessage (Apple only) and upstart WhatsApp (multi-platform) all offer similar functionality and are incredibly popular. In December 2013, WhatsApp claimed to have 400 million monthly active users (although the BBC claims the user base is nearer 450 million), sending more that 10 billion messages each day. The growth of mobile messaging apps has caused a corresponding fall in SMS text messaging.

The Guardian reports that there were 145 billion SMS messages sent during 2013, down 7 billion on 2012. Deloitte, who carried out the research, estimate a similar drop in use during 2014. In the meantime, IM apps are picking up the slack, costing telecoms providers billions in the process.

The news that Facebook has just acquired WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion clearly shows that instant messaging apps are not only big business, but also a valuable communications tool.

IM apps, helping to cut costs

Because messages sent via IM apps are covered by the data allowance included with the mobile contract, users have been able to radically reduce their telecoms costs. Instead of paying up to £0.10 per message, IM messages are effectively free, particularly when sent over WiFi networks.

For businesses, this is great news. Any reduction in costs is welcome, as is the ability to make communications between employees easier. The ability to attached documents, photos and even videos further enhances the usefulness of IM messaging.

A few business concerns

These third party apps perform their given tasks admirably, but there are a couple of issues specific to businesses that need to be considered:

Intellectual property protection

BBM and iMessage are both reported to be extremely secure, protecting messages from theft or compromise. However users of these services have no guarantee that data is completely secure, nor that messages are being stored and accessed by the service provider.

Facebook is well known for collecting and mining the data of their user base, so WhatsApp messaging is almost certain to be subject to the same levels of intervention. For many businesses this level of “intrusion” is unlikely to be welcome.

Sending sensitive company information by public messaging frameworks is ill-advised.

Auditing difficulties

Where disputes arise, businesses often need to demonstrate an audit trail of communications to prove who said what and to whom. With messaging frameworks that are outside your control, obtaining audit data is likely to be difficult or impossible.

Again, mission-critical communications should not be sent via these mediums.

A suitable alternative for business

The business value of IM apps is undeniable, but the current solutions available are more geared towards consumer users. Remote workers will naturally gravitate towards these consumer-based messaging systems as they seek to bring the smooth flow of their personal communication methods into the business arena.

Ideally businesses should be looking at developing their own secure messaging system that protects the flow of confidential content, and maintains a full audit trail of activity for reporting purposes. In this way your business will be able to control (and protect) message content at every stage of the communications process.

However there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the potential problems and risks posed by instant messaging apps. Where businesses are unable to develop their own messaging systems, they should implement a comprehensive training programme designed to help employees understand their responsibilities when sending instant messages using public or consumer services. Sharing responsibility in this way helps to mitigate some of the problems we have discussed here.

Enterprise instant messaging offers significant business benefits, but proper implementation will be a balancing act between privacy, security and flexibility. Why not get in touch with Dootrix today to discuss the available options and how we can help you navigate the minefield.

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