Free Messaging Apps are Costing Your Business


By Zach Richardson February 21, 2018

Someone in your IT department just put in a purchasing request to buy Forsta’s Business Messaging application. The first response is very predictable: “Aren’t there free apps out there that already do messaging, like SMS?” The answer to the question is “Yes,” but the request is for business messaging.

Why would you pay for business messaging?  Let me make the case that you’re already paying for business messaging.

Several recent studies have shown that 80 percent of employees are using messaging to conduct some part of their business today. This is not a replacement for traditional communication platforms like email, but a quicker and easier way to communicate with their peers.

So, what is the problem? Company information is being transmitted internally and externally with no record of what was said or what commitments may have been made. This type of uncertainty is uncomfortable for any business owner or executive when it’s pointed out to them.

With email, you at least have a record of the conversation, the recipient’s name, and when it was received.

This is only the tip of the iceberg with unapproved business messaging. SMS, for instance, is not end-to-end encrypted so the expectation of security or privacy is misguided. This puts your business communications at risk.

Shadow IT is a term often used to describe information-technology systems and solutions built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. There can be no greater example of Shadow IT than the use of multiple free messaging apps within an organization.

So, what are the costs associated with the “free” apps? Let’s use a few real world examples to make the point here.

Dave the sales guy is busy driving all the sales he can before the end of the quarter. He has been working on a sweet deal with Beth, the buyer at Company Z. As time gets tight, Dave finds it is much easier and quicker to simply send Beth notes and quotes via SMS. This communication is not captured in the CRM system, nor is there any record in email of the final deal Dave offered Beth via text. Beth decides to accept the last text quote Dave sent and you would think all is good.

Not so fast.

Dave closes the deal in his CRM system, the product is shipped and the invoice is sent to Beth. The invoice Beth receives is for a larger amount than was on the quote Dave texted her. She calls the company accounts payable clerk and wants to know what the problem is. The only record the accounts payable clerk has access to looks like the correct invoice was sent.

Now, we check in with Dave from sales, who can’t find the text message and is struggling to remember the details. Even when the invoice is corrected to the lower amount, the company is getting less money than it forecasted; and figuring out what happened is costing additional time and effort. A more likely scenario is that Beth decides not to do business with a company who might feel a little shady, that is a definite hard cost.

A real business messaging system would archive all messages sent for an easy discovery of the actual quote.

A second example has been hitting the news a lot lately. Hackers are getting more sophisticated and bold every day. Organized efforts to steal corporate or personal information have skyrocketed in the last three years. One of the top culprits is a technique where the hackers get what is called a “man in the middle” to grab all communications going to and from the intended messengers. Free messaging apps may lack the sophisticated encryption to keep your information from getting into the wrong hands. The costs associated with losing key corporate information or exposing embarrassing conversations are usually enormous. A business messaging app should be encrypted at all phases of communication and storage. Also, business messaging apps will be architected to eliminate the “man in the middle” technique.

One more thought on costs. All corporate systems have a cost component to them; many, if not all, of them were cost justified based on usage and benefit to the organization. Any shadow systems, like free messaging apps, dilute the cost benefit numbers used to justify the system; simply stated, if 80% of the company is using a free messaging app instead of a fully vetted email/business messaging app, your corporate system is underutilized.

Highly skilled and usually scarce IT resources are trained with expertise in the authorized corporate systems. They are not up to speed on every nuance of every potential free messaging app from Instagram to Snapchat to Facebook Messenger to SMS. It’s when, not if, they must track down a specific message thread that it becomes an exercise of sifting through emoji’s, selfies, and the latest cyberslang.

A much better use of the scarce IT resource is employing a business messaging system that provides the administrative capabilities to set the appropriate responsibilities, archive all messages, search messages by criteria, and most importantly, implement one corporate paradigm.

This may be coming across as a “Do the IT way or the highway” discussion. It’s not meant to be.

A healthy organization should look at a strategy that spawns innovation and has the capabilities to find messaging applications or other productivity applications that can be tested and approved without having to fall into the darkness of Shadow IT. The reality is that data security and corporate compliance are complex in nature and are usually at odds with new cloud-based mobile applications. The answer is not to dumb down the functionality of the messaging applications to fit a corporate IT security profile. The answer is to look for the business messaging app that brings the speed and ease of use we have become accustomed to in consumer and social messaging apps without sacrificing the corporate mandates for security, system administration, data retention, and compliance management.

As little as two years ago, you would have had a hard time finding a business-grade messaging app would have been hard and the outcome would likely have been disappointing. However, in the last year several players have entered an accelerating business messaging market that Compass Group has estimated to be $1.9 billion by 2019 (Compass Intelligence April, 2016). In fact, the year-over-year growth rate in business messaging apps is now higher than consumer or social messaging apps, a recognition of the appetite of organizations looking to solve a known and quantifiable business problem.

The final answer is for every business is to acknowledge the issue and find the right business messaging app that works best for your company. You’re already paying for business messaging in ways you might not recognize; it’s time to bring it out of the shadows and into the light to speed up and improve your business communications and get the results your company truly deserves.