Enterprise-grade messaging apps for desk-less workers, a massive opportunity for telcos

9 December 2020

How to connect deskless workers, the largest and most forgotten group of workers?

The market of communication and collaboration applications is quite saturated at first sight: while many businesses are happy using MS Teams, WebEx or the Google Apps, the necessities of the non-business world are satisfied through free instant messaging alternatives such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

But wait a second – is this already it? Didn’t we forget a few additional user types in between that are unhappy with these choices? The target group I’m referring to is the mobile workforce that is not working at a desk, but rather in retail stores, in manufacturing, transport, or in warehouses, for instance. This target group is not a niche market: in fact, there are even four times more deskless workers than office employees in the world.

Why companies are investing in mobile collaboration tools?

You might argue that this market hasn’t been addressed by telecommunications and technology providers on a grand scale because companies don’t consider it worthwhile spending money in this area. It turns out that there are several indicators suggesting the contrary. In fact, companies with big mobile workforces invest in mobile collaboration tools for several reasons:

  • Money and time savings: When mobile employees don’t have appropriate communication tools at their disposal, they cannot work efficiently as soon as an unexpected problem occurs. In manufacturing environments, for instance, a machine may stop to work or other technical problems might need to be solved. If the employee can simply start a brief video call with a technical specialist, there’s no need anymore to relocate, and the machine will be repaired quickly without interrupting both working days for too long.
  • Improvement of employee satisfaction: Mobile employees are complaining about inadequate communication tools. In retail, for instance, you’ll find employees communicating via private messengers that have not been designed for usage at work and are therefore frustrating to use. In addition, their communication tools often include walkie talkies and the corporate PBX extension. Employers are looking for ways to reduce this complexity and make communication easy in order to retain people in high-churn sectors.
  • Prevention of privacy, legal compliance and security risks: IT departments are having a hard time to keep track of their mobile workforce. These employees often do not exist within the corporate IT and telephone system, they have neither an account in the corporate directory nor a corporate email account. They often use private messengers which means that the employer has no control about shared data and can’t manage users or groups.
  • Onboarding of external team members: In field working or retail environments, it is common practice to employ temporary workers from third-party companies, franchise shops or self-employed people. These individuals must be somehow connected to the company’s permanent workforce, in order to permit a smooth communication. However, IT responsibles don’t want to give visibility of the corporate network to temporary team members, or grant access to the corporate directory. They simply want to make sure to connect people securely with one another without necessarily having to provide corporate devices or guiding them through complex IT onboarding processes.

The telcos advantage versus OTT pure players

Telecommunications providers are having a hard time to create new services for their customers.

On the consumer side, OTT’s have emerged that take advantage of the telco’s infrastructure to provide very customer-centric services.

On the business side, through the trend of consumerization, companies are increasingly looking for more flexibility and solutions that adapt to the special necessities of their mobile workforce. This might be a chance for telcos to fill a gap in the market by offering easy corporate communication tools while taking advantage of their existing customer relations, as well as their expertise in enterprise and communications networks. Instead of developing a new solution from scratch, they might work with technology partners who have already invested resources in this type of communication app. This way, service providers can simply adapt and brand existing software to a specific vertical, such as retail or manufacturing, and focus on providing the very best solution to their customer’s unique problems.

Another sign that it is time to address this market now, is that there have been emerging plenty of start-ups recently, that develop all types of apps specifically for the mobile workforce. However, these new ventures lack one decisive element: While they are strong in messaging, they do not focus on integrating within the existing telephone network or providing any PBX functionalities and leave this field to carriers who can leverage their existing expertise in this area.

Mobility is the new norm in Unified Communications

That being said, it is true that deskless workers are not the only ones who need to rely on mobile collaboration: office employees do also work increasingly from anywhere and need to be reachable through the phone system wherever they are. Traditional enterprise communication tools do have mobile apps, but as the IT research company 451 Research points out in their market report, they have not been developed with the mobile workforce in mind. For instance, it is a quite complex endeavour to integrate these apps within the corporate telephone network. Having a loose connection between these apps and the company’s UC network leads to a poorer quality of service and thus the user experience.

What aspects are relevant when addressing first-line workers communications market?

So, what are the most critical elements when launching communication and collaboration tools for employees that are not working at a desk?

  • Extremely easy user experience: This is probably the most important point because these types of employees work in conditions where they need to use an app intuitively and quickly. They don’t have time to navigate through sophisticated apps, so the solution must be self-explanatory and only includes the very necessary features. The fewer clicks are necessary to do anything, the better.
  • End-user tailored solutions: Good solutions can only emerge when they’re developed with the end-user in mind, in order to identify key features. For example, a typical communications requirement in retail stores is to ask for help when a supply truck has arrived, and the delivery must be stored. Trying to call several colleagues by phone to check their availability is time-consuming and inefficient. Instead, imagine a manager could simply click on a predefined alert (e.g. “Supply truck arrived, help required”) without typing and send it to a predefined group of employees or a department (e.g. “Storage group”) who then can accept or decline the notification without even opening the app. This might look as follows:

  • Integration within the existing ICT network: There should be integration on the PSTN level to enable communication between mobile workers with their colleagues in the office and even with customers. Only true integration permits a good user experience and control through the ICT department. Telcos have more experience with existing enterprise communication networks than emerging messaging and collaboration startups and can therefore help corporations more profoundly and more sustainably.
  • Appropriate pricing: Many employees will barely use their unified communications app during 5 minutes per day – which is another reason why companies won’t invest in traditional UC suites to connect their thousands of mobile workers. The market leading platforms are thought for intense usage and so are their prices. While the pricing should reflect the value created by the solution, it should also consider the sporadic usage.

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