Home As The Phone Replaces The Laptop, Workers Find New Ways To Talk

As The Phone Replaces The Laptop, Workers Find New Ways To Talk

This post is presented by Business Is Great Britain.

Kyle Ellicott, the CTO and cofounder of Wearable World, has just 10 full-time employees working at his San Francisco-based startup incubator and media company. But he’s pulling off a conference in London this week, working with staffers and contractors spread across 18 cities and three countries. How does he do it? By getting the message across.

Employees who have grown used to running their personal lives over text messages expect the same speed and flexibility in their work tools. But adopting messaging in the workplace isn’t as simple as just sending a text.

“When you’re working across multiple time zones and sharing information with lots of people, texting is much faster and more efficient than either email or phone,” says Ellicott. “But the problem as you scale is cost and time delay.”

Smaller businesses are going global, too.

That cost can mount, particularly when international borders are involved. Sending a message from one country to another using standard SMS protocols can cost around 25¢ per text, and that quickly becomes pretty expensive when you have dozens of people sending hundreds of messages per week. 

Equally challenging, Ellicott add, is a time delay of seconds or even minutes using standard text protocols across borders: “The messages may stall, come in out of order, or slice off relevant graphic or video links.” 

Messaging apps, which bypass phone companies’ offerings to send text and graphics over wireless data connections, include WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Google Hangouts, and Apple’s iMessage. For Wearable World, the answer was Cotap, a mobile messaging service targeted at businesses. 

Most collaboration tools have been targeted at desk-bound professionals. Cotap saw an opportunity to bring workers in fields like retail, hospitality, and freight into the knowledge era. That’s a big opportunity—Forrester estimates there are 85 million non-knowledge workers in the U.S. alone, compared to the 55 million knowledge workers traditionally served by Microsoft and Google.

“Modern companies are rethinking entire workflows now that powerful software no longer requires the user to be sitting down at a desk,” says Jim Patterson, Cotap’s CEO and cofounder. “With mobile-first enterprise apps like Cotap, workers have anywhere, anytime access to the people and information they need to get work done, and they can complete tasks standing in line for coffee, waiting on an elevator or walking to meet a client.”

Where consumer messaging apps make it easy to swap photos, Cotap lets users send work files.

Another benefit is separating business from personal messaging.

Dave Lanning of Dave’s Coffee, a Rhode Island-based craft coffee shop, uses Cotap to coordinate work across two coffee bars, a roaster, and a warehouse.

“Every time I see a push notification from Cotap, I know that means it’s business,” says Lanning. “It’s an instant way to prioritize responses.”

But the cross-border opportunity caught Cotap a bit by surprise. For the same reasons that WhatsApp has proven popular with consumers looking to save money and gain new features, Cotap has attracted many business customers like Wearable World that are doing business internationally at a far earlier stage than they might have in the past.

Cotap shows activity by nation. Darker colors indicate more activity.

That global market is huge. Cotap says there really is a market of 2.1 billion mobile phone users who the company could help by facilitating fast, secure, and inexpensive communication.

Think of a fruit vendor on a street stand in India. Does he really need a mobile messaging app?

“Absolutely,” says Patterson. “He needs to communicate with his family, his suppliers, his bankers, his friends, his babysitters, and a dozen other people about everything incoming inventory to the weather to road conditions and more.” 

This isn’t the first time a communication technology has evolved from consumer to enterprise use. Think of how instant messaging, popularized by AOL and Yahoo, made its way into the workplace. Or how Web-based email started with Hotmail and Gmail—and now has business-friendly versions made by Microsoft and Google for companies large and small.

But the impact of mobile messaging could reach far beyond what email and IM have done. It can make it cheaper for small businesses to go global—and it can bring the world’s knowledge to all of a company’s employees. The question: Is your business ready to get the message?

Map graphic courtesy of Cotap; lead image via Shutterstock 

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