We have seen an explosion of enterprise communication and messaging applications. People are used to more communication platforms on their personal devices, and are expecting a similar range of tools to be available to them in the workplace.

Employers are challenged with not only finding the most effective and secure communications platform that can reach an increasingly mobile workforce, but one that also supports communication requirements such as those around mission critical scenarios. Business leaders are asking: what is the best form of communication to address these needs and what are the benefits of one platform over another?

In an ideal world, businesses require an enterprise communication platform which is effective at reaching users at the right time, is secure, and used by everyone. Amongst all the solutions currently available, a messaging service which combines SMS and IM remains the most reliable and secure form of communication capable of reaching everyone.

Mission Critical Enterprise Communication

Effective communication is critical to businesses of any size. Enterprises that communicate with staff effectively can see positive differences in performance and reduced costs. For example, Unum found that the failure to effectively communicate company benefits available to employees costs UK businesses £2.7 billion every year through higher employee turnover and sickness. In an increasingly fluid business environment, it is essential for businesses to have in place the correct processes and technologies to allow them to be flexible and adaptable and to protect their business.

There are a number of critical scenarios that require getting a message delivered quickly, securely and reliably, either to an employee, customer or specific supplier. For example, office closures due to adverse weather affecting an employee’s journey to the office, or alerting team members on call to an emergency situation.

According to insurance group RSA, the wintery blizzards in January 2013 saw an estimated 1/3 of all workers across Britain unable to travel into work which cost the UK economy £500m a day. By alerting staff to travel issues around inclement weather, enterprises could ensure that those able to stay at home would be able to plan to work from home earlier on, therefore avoiding any safety issues travelling through blizzards.

Equally important, messaging can be used to ensure productivity when internal systems or processes are interrupted. According to the 2012 Acronis Disaster Recovery Index survey 86% of companies suffered downtime in the last year, and lost an average of 2.2 days annually as a result.

For example, emergency alert services could be used by airlines wanting to inform crew and passengers on flights that are likely to be delayed or cancelled due to bad weather, or a bank’s IT teams being alerted to a faulty system which has the potential to affect millions of customers. In such situations it is important that relevant staff are notified as soon as possible to reduce downtime and negative impact on the business.

The Best Of Both Worlds With IM & SMS

Facebook’s recent $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp highlighted the increasing importance of mobile messaging as a leading form of communication. Despite the hefty price tag, WhatsApp’s 450 million users fall short of the potential reach of SMS – 6 billion. While SMS technology first became available in 1992, its unrivalled reach has meant that it has withstood the test of time.

Unlike over the top (OTT) applications like WhatsApp, Viber and Line, SMS is entirely interoperable and works with all mobile users worldwide as it is not reliant on an IP connection. In addition to its reliability and reach, SMS is a highly engaging medium, further enhancing its credentials as a suitable tool for business communication.

Various studies cite the read rate for a typical SMS between 95% and 98%. This compares favourably with other common forms of enterprise communication, such as email, with an open rate of just 33%. Business leaders are clearly taking note of this, with a Forrester study reporting that 70% of enterprises today consider SMS the number one mobile technology, with an additional 16% planning to utilise SMS in 2014.

Despite the longevity of SMS, IM is growing in popularity with a recent study from Deloitte revealing that IM traffic overtook SMS for the first time last year with 160 billion instant messages compared with 152 billion SMS’ sent in the UK in 2013.

One of the great benefits of IM is that it provides messaging at a lower cost compared to SMS, and in many instances, is free. It also provides more rich messaging as users are able to easily transmit not only information, but pictures, video and group messages as well as authentication of message delivery.

In order to maximise the advantages of both forms of communication, enterprises should look to deploy messaging services which combine IM and SMS, ensuring users can send and receive messages regardless of the platform they are using as these services are designed to use the most suitable platform available. They can be depended on not only for regular chat between team members but also for critical business processes, excelling in terms of security, responsiveness, availability and reliability for enterprises.

Security Is Paramount

In addition to reaching the right people at the right time, security is paramount to enterprise communications as it is highly likely that some of the information exchanged by workers will be sensitive. Symantec recently revealed that the average cost of a data breach to UK businesses is over 2 million pounds, a sharp increase from the year before.

In light of the Snowden revelations, communication providers have come under increasing scrutiny as users are now more aware and concerned about security and privacy issues. This is particularly important for businesses handling sensitive data such as banks or public sector organisations.

A recent study revealed that a large proportion of UK enterprises (72%) have forbidden the use of public IM software, such as MSN and Yahoo!, due to security concerns. Such concerns can be addressed as messages exchanged through an IM/SMS service can be safeguarded against costly security breaches through strong end-to-end encryption.

Additionally, for regulatory compliance or monitoring, long-term archiving of messages is available to enable enterprises to provide evidence of internal communications. Therefore, a combined IM/SMS solution not only offers the most effective form of communication, but also gives enterprises an exceptionally robust and secure messaging service.

As employees continue to adopt a range of business and communication tools, employers are increasingly challenged with finding a communications medium used by everyone. While other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Yammer are limited by restricted user bases or a reliance on an internet connection, a combined IM/SMS solution should be the preferred method of communication for enterprises as it is secure, interoperable, highly personal and well read.