Smartphones, WhatsApp and the Occasional Zoom Download
Most businesses today either are moving or have already moved to some sort of a unified communications (UC)/ collaboration platform. This is common for their video conferencing and phone communications solutions. They’ve chosen Microsoft Teams, or Cisco WebEx Teams, or Slack, or Zoom, or… But what if they’re completely overthinking, over-engineering and overpaying? What if they don’t need all that new technology (software platforms, hardware, IT expertise, etc.)? Is their best solution for a full “UC” system right in front of them, fully amortized/paid for the “system”. Do global businesses really need a traditional enterprise UC or collaboration system anymore? Is the combination of the ubiquitous smartphone, the near-ubiquitous “WhatsApp”, and the occasional FREE Zoom video conference more than enough? Let’s take a look.
The New Age of Enterprise Shadow IT vs Unified Communications Platforms
Today, we think of “shadow IT” as software systems used within an enterprise without explicit IT approval or authorization. Generally, shadow IT is identified as a security hazard and a bad thing for an organization. Yet, there’s a version of shadow IT that is already practiced around the world —- everyone has a smartphone. Nearly everyone uses WhatsApp for both personal and business chat. And Zoom has emerged as the leader in video conferencing. In many cases, these 3 technologies are used in tandem and without explicit authorization from IT. However, does that make them Shadow IT worthy? Does that make them bad? Let’s look at some key statistics:
- Take a look around. You’ll see that almost everyone around you has a smartphone in their hand or within reach. Worldwide, 3.2 billion people (out of a global population of around 7.7B, for a 41.5% penetration) own and use a smartphone.
- 67% of internet users worldwide visit the Web on a mobile device. Desktop computers are far behind at 33%.
- IBM research shows that we read almost half (49.1%) of all emails on mobile devices.
- Most importantly, almost a third of Americans would give up sex for a year than part with their cellphone. This according to recent research by BCG (Boston Consulting Group).
- Over 2 billion people (up from 1.5B in late 2017) use WhatsApp every day to stay connected with their family, friends, and business colleagues/partners. This is an amazing feat considering it is approaching the numbers of Facebook (which currently claims 2.5 billion users as of Q4 2019.), which coincidentally acquired WhatsApp in 2014.
- It’s not just about the massive number of users though, it’s about engagement. WhatsApp users send about 65 billion messages per day, which is about 750,000 messages per second! WhatsApp has 450 million daily active users (DAU). Compare that to Snapchat’s 191 million, or to Microsoft Teams’ measly 44 million DAU (which is “artificially” large at present due to a 12M+ growth in the last month from the remote work brought about by COVID-19), or even to Zoom’s recent 200 million DAU updates. You can begin to understand the magnitude of WhatsApp dominance.
- WhatsApp (34%) is the most commonly-used unauthorized platform for sharing files with colleagues, ahead of Google Drive (30%), Facebook (29%) and personal email (26%).
- WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 104 countries. For Europe, Africa, and Latin America you can expect WhatsApp is either a leader or has significant enough penetration to allow for “standardization.” In fact, a recent survey from UK-based analyst firm CCS Insights indicates that WhatsApp has leapfrogged Office365 and is now the most widely-used mobile app in the workplace, more prevalent than mobile versions of workstream collaboration apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.
- Today, on average, Zoom’s teleconferencing DAU sits at 200 million meeting participants.
- Zoom’s video conferencing features are free for everyone to use — up to 40 minutes, that is. (FYI: Zoom chose this number because according to research video conferences ideally should be about 45 minutes)
- During the current coronavirus social distancing push, Zoom has offered its video conferencing for free to everyone. In fact, over 90,000 schools across 20 countries have taken them up on this offer. NOTE: Unify Square also has a free enterprise UC monitoring and troubleshooting offer available.
What do users really need in an enterprise UC solution?
OK, so the above datapoints surely seem to prove that the “platform” exists, that the market share is there and that the price points are almost too good to believe. But what about what users really need to do their jobs — do the 3 Amigos (smartphones, WhatsApp and Zoom) have what it takes? Let’s break down what UC really means and requires:
- Chat: This is analogous to common carrier-provisioned texting (SMS/EMS/MMS) services and clearly also fits the WhatsApp model.
- Voice: Voice telephony (which is over IP for enterprise UC systems) is obviously a key core constituent function and must also voicemail. But the smartphone “version” of voice can and will clearly work for businesses too
- Video Conferencing: This is both one-to-very-few and one-to-many conferencing — both for voice only and especially for video. Most smartphone carriers and smartphones allow for easy 1-few conferencing. Zoom then adds in the functionality for anything more complicated.
- Remote: Where do employees do most of their work? An increasingly large set of employees (especially in the spring of 2020) work more outside of the office than in it. This is not only a key requirement but one which the triumvirate handles well. Unfortunately, the communication apps that have been built for the desktop world – like Slack and Microsoft Teams – have been initially built for a person staring at a computer screen. In contrast, WhatsApp is mobile-first.
- Document Management & Desktop Sharing: For these last four requirements, things start getting a bit trickier, but still not unmanageable (except for the last item in this list) for the Three Amigos to handle.
- Integrations: Integrating with a call center application, or with Salesforce or with ServiceNow – either natively or tangentially. When the system integrates with apps such as these, employees can better serve customers and manage business information and activity. In most cases, the triumvirate only does tangential integration at best, but given the tremendous cost and complexity savings, perhaps that’s still OK for all but the most demanding of the F100?
- Administration: Of course, IT is going to want/demand some sort of an administration console to monitor, analyze, configuration, onboard/offboard, etc. All the individual apps/hardware pieces have some level of Admin, but there is nothing (at least not until some 3rd party ISV with a monitoring and management specialization emerges) to stitch them all together at present.
- “Unified”: The “unified” part of UC implies that all the above mentioned “functions” work in an integrated and mostly seamless manner. Obviously today they do not. Teams or Slack die-hards who have grown accustomed to slick “unified” operations may find such a backslide to be a non-starter in terms of productivity. Again, though, as with integrations, if the ROI and simplicity factors are high, will the solution be “good enough?”
Does a non-Unified Enterprise UC System Fall Apart?
Before we get carried away with our new Shadow IT solution, let’s look at the IT Pro and the buyer. Despite the ROI and simplicity upsides, are there perhaps too many downsides to winning the day? Here’s the short-list:
- MDM: Mobile Device Management (MDM), or what is increasingly becoming known as UEM (Unified Endpoint Management) is now an increased focus for IT. Gartner predicts that 80% of worker tasks will take place on mobile devices (but not necessarily smartphones) by late 2020. Unfortunately, mobile devices are susceptible to most of the same vulnerabilities as personal computers. What is worse, is that because the majority of the smartphones in use are personally owned, IT’s ability to impose the same level of UEM control on the devices is significantly curtailed. This is especially true when it comes to supporting multiple smartphone types. IT now has many more endpoints to manage, sometimes exceeding the number of desktops.
- Security: There is no end of security-related risks when you look at WhatsApp, Zoom, and smartphones. Ignoring device vulnerabilities or failing to apply operating system patches in a timely manner can also result in a compromised environment. By their nature, consumer apps (like WhatsApp) lack central management capabilities. WhatsApp has encryption mechanisms, but there are not enough control, governance, visibility, and reassurances that enterprises need. Deutsche Bank, for example, chose to ban WhatsApp in 2017 as it sought to improve compliance processes. And another German firm, tire manufacturer Continental, prohibited its 240,000 employees from using WhatsApp to comply with GDPR rules, citing concerns around the storage of users’ WhatsApp contacts on Facebook’s servers. In contrast, though, WhatsApp has become a favorite of physicians in the UK. A study of over 2,000 doctors across five hospital sites showed that one-third of doctors and nurses use WhatsApp and other messaging apps to send clinical information, despite NHS warnings about data privacy risks.
- Service Plans & Coverage: IT teams must consider the carrier service plans that go with implementing mobile devices. Some plans might limit the number of calls or texts, or the amount of used data. There might also be regional restrictions, such as traveling out of the country or calling another country. Despite pico-cell coverage for penetration of office buildings, there may also be general cellphone coverage issues within office buildings — coverage which “normal” Wi-Fi now has already solved. IT might need to put a system in place for monitoring and controlling usage, or for being able to shut down devices that are lost, stolen or misplaced.
- Facebook: As the owner of WhatsApp Facebook brings with it several additional issues. First is the general aura of security uncertainty that many companies have. This is in regards to whether to trust Facebook to keep their corporate data separate from the general consumer data. Second is the fact that WhatsApp was originally focused on launching a “WhatsApp for Enterprises” back in 2017, but the launch was mysteriously delayed. Then in 2018 Facebook launched its new Workplace from Facebook offering targeting a similar business audience. Workplace (according to Facebook) now counts more than 30,000 global companies (in all major verticals) using Workplace. Having said that, the Workplace DAU count is David size, to the Goliath that is WhatsApp and smartphone usage. Facebook itself seems to be partially inhibiting the WhatsApp business aspirations.
- Gartner: The king of IT analysis and consultation still has not really “blessed” this new concept either, which may scare most large organizations away. To date, there exists no research or reports suggesting that the combo of WhatsApp, smartphones, and Zoom would make for a solid enterprise UC substitute.
Redefining the Unified Communications Phone
Popular consumer technology often makes the jump from the personal to the professional. AOL Instant Messenger, the iPhone/smartphone and Facebook, for example, started off as consumer apps and devices and quickly gained ground in the office. More recently, both WhatsApp and Zoom have been traveling that same path.
As the definitions of the workplace/business hours become more fluid, so too does the definition of an office phone. Of course, some employees will still need or prefer a robust enterprise UC system on their desktop. However, for both the user and IT, is an 80/20, or even perhaps 70/30 set of features and functions “good enough?” And if so, can the 3 amigos of smartphones, WhatsApp and Zoom, all of which already have enterprise solutions on their own, cobble together enough of a “UC” offering to create the low cost, high utility juggernaut that the market is seeking?
Time will tell, but even if they do succeed, odds are that IT will, at minimum, insist on a robust set of monitoring, troubleshooting and management tools to keep tabs on availability, call quality and security – no worries, PowerSuite will have an app for that.