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Channel Curmudgeon: Texting — Another Battle for UC&C Vendors to Lose

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This article was originally published on ChannelPartnersOnline

Since its popular inception with AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) in the late 1990s, text has become an indispensable communications tool for business users as well as consumers. Text is unobtrusive (unlike a phone call) yet lightweight (generally read more quickly than email), continuously available (best if you have both a desktop and a laptop as well as mobile access, as you get in the Apple environment), universal (at least the SMS variety), flexible (one-to-one or many-to-many), persistent (chat sessions can last for months or years), and multi-functional (with multimedia capability). For many of us, text takes up more of our time each day than voice. Ever try to get a millennial to voluntarily make a phone call?

For UC&C and team collaboration vendors, text functionality is a key building block in their product offerings. The question is, will anybody use it? Uptake is far, far from a sure thing. The challenge is that text functions within UC&C and team collaboration apps compete with other, often more flexible, options:

  • Mobile operator SMS and MMS: AOL may have started the texting revolution, but it went viral with the availability of mobile SMS and MMS for pictures and videos. SMS/MMS is unique in that it is the only universally available, any-to-any mobile texting option. Along with Skype, it’s available on desktops if you’re an iPhone/Mac user. UCaaS and CPaaS providers have even extended SMS to wired devices.
  • Premium texting services: Apple iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger epitomize the premium OTT texting market in the United States; all deliver enhanced features pioneered in BlackBerry Messenger. However, these solutions recognize their prized positions in the texting space and limit or flat-out prohibit interconnection with other platforms. And, as younger people enter the workforce, they’ll bring their preferred texting tools with them. Yep, that was your price list on Messenger. On an unmanaged, BYOD-program smartphone.

After those two, there is the “everyone else” bucket. UC&C and team collaboration texting fits into this category, along with web chat and the secure texting solutions required in high-security environments.

The challenge that UC&C and team collaboration text faces is getting anyone to choose it over the more popular options. In high-security environments, employers can mandate use of a secure texting solution under penalty of termination (yeah, they’re that serious). But short of a pink-slip-shaped gun to the head, how do you advise customers to get their end users to text on that expensive platform you just sold them?

What’s that? Crickets?

No surprise. I’ve yet to speak with a partner that circled back after three or six months and found even mildly frequent uptake. Side lesson: Don’t use the old “we’ll replace the AOL/Messenger/SnapChat texting ‘wild west’ with your corporate IT-approved tool” selling point. It’ll kill your credibility. Proof of service it’s not.

Suppliers aren’t much help. The UC&C and team collaboration vendors we all know and love faced a very similar challenge in years past with their mobile UC offerings. They all rolled out to much fanfare mobile UC apps that would route users’ business calls through the UC&C platform and even append the caller ID of the user’s desk phone to these calls.

The problem was that Apple wouldn’t give mobile UC developers access to the iPhone’s native dialer app, and hence they had to develop a completely separate app and require the user to open it to make business calls. Android did allow access to the native dialer in its devices, but even when Apple opened the iPhone dialer with its CallKit offering, users still continued to place their business calls the same way they made their personal calls. Mobile UC apps did offer some unique features, like keeping your cell number hidden from business contacts, but the benefit didn’t outweigh the obvious inconvenience.

Let’s face it — Apple, Samsung and other phone makers have spent millions making their native dialer and texting widgets functional and easy to use. Mobile UC solutions that required end users to open a separate app to make or receive business calls were doomed to failure from the get-go. Texting will present a virtually identical challenge to the UC&C and team collaboration providers: If the boss isn’t demanding on threat of unemployment that I use a separate app for business texting, why would I?

Team collaboration could offer a compelling answer; however, that assumes that the team collaboration solution is adopted in employees’ daily work routines, becomes an indispensable tool for doing their jobs and is accessible continuously whether a user is at her desk or on the go. We are waiting to see if that vision becomes a reality. The trick, according to a recent report by G2 Crowd, is answering the “what’s in it for me?” question. So far, no collaboration platform, even the vaunted Slack, struggles to clear 75 percent adoption. Everyone texts. Being a curmudgeon, we’re not holding our breath for end users to abandon SMS for Slack.

Enterprise UC&C and team collaboration texting, like mobile UC before it, presents a conundrum to your suppliers. While some have tried to portray consumer technologies as complementary to their offerings, nothing could be farther from the truth: They’re competitors, pure and simple.

UC&C and team collaboration vendors must equip partners to show exactly how they’re adding value. Fail, and they face the prospect of becoming less important vehicles for employee communications. That’s bad news for the channel. There’s a tacit assumption in the industry that desk phones and “business communications solutions” are indispensable. While the UC&C and team collaboration vendors might cling to that belief, their customers aren’t nearly as convinced.

When customers start sending that message, what’s your response? IDK, FWIW. TTYL.

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