Will Messaging Displace Voice?

Rethinking Communications

Will Messaging Displace Voice?

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  September 23, 2014

You already know that landline telephony has lost its primacy in the communications ecosphere and how voice has more competition than ever before. While the installed base of PBXs and IP PBXs remains ubiquitous, there are forces pushing inward from the edges to change this equation. First we saw the rise of e-mail, a zero-cost alternative for everyday needs. The economics are great, and in many cases, near real-time communication is good enough. Not only that, but along with the pervasiveness of e-mail comes an acceptance of a less personal mode of communicating.

The double-whammy against landline telephony comes with the advent of mobile broadband. This is much more recent, but it signals a mass transition away from desk phones over to mobile devices. In many cases, this is a better way to do telephony, not to mention adding the forms of data that expedite the need to communicate quickly.

When you put all this together, it’s not surprising to see how texting and messaging have become so popular in the business world lately. Think back to the early days of Skype (News - Alert) and how this expanded the voice business. Of course, Skype siphoned paid minutes away from incumbent carriers, but it also got people talking more by virtue of being free. Not only did Skype open up the consumer voice market, but its appeal has also translated nicely to the business market.

That pattern is repeating now in the messaging space, which is poised to amplify the impact of e-mail on another level. Voice definitely has its merits, but businesses still spend a lot of money on telephony. Applications like Skype are free or near free, but are complementary at best for businesses. There are too many issues around quality, reliability, features, and network access to be a replacement for existing phone systems.

Messaging is the new voice

Now, let’s add to that the emergence of Millennials as a force in the business world. By 2025, it’s expected that 75 percent of the workforce will be digital natives, and if you’ve been reading my column, you’ll know this is a different demographic from the pre-Internet generation.

Not only has this audience moved away from the desk phone to mobility, but they’re also moving away from voice to text. That’s two big strikes against your phone system, and on top of that, messaging is free or near free. Some businesses have moved away from desk phones altogether, and this trend is only going to accelerate once Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync converts more enterprises to their voice applications.

A recent study by BI Intelligence pulls together data from various sources showing the near-exponential rise of texting activity. Not only does this research show how the major messaging applications are adding users at 15 percent or more quarterly, but how end users are spending upwards of three hours per week doing messaging.

To be clear, this data is consumer-driven and largely reflects Android (News - Alert) usage, but the overall trend is undeniable. A common theme in my column is the idea that consumer experiences and expectations are finding their way into the business environment, and messaging is bound to follow the pattern. Just like the way Skype expanded the voice pie, messaging will expand the pie for text-based communication. Businesses like it because it’s much cheaper than voice, and employees like messaging because it’s quick.

As noted above, the speed of business is increasing, and messaging can bring a lot of business value when short and sweet does the job. When you look at it that way, Facebook’s (News - Alert) move to acquire WhatsApp makes more sense. I’m not saying it’ll be a player in the business space any time soon, but the world is moving to shorter forms of communication, and clearly, Millennials don’t mind that it lacks the warmth or personal touch of voice. Like anything else, there’s a tradeoff to be made with innovation, and if messaging isn’t part of your UC roadmap, don’t blink or you might miss the next big thing.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Maurice Nagle