Using text messaging in business

If you own a mobile phone, chances are, you know what a text message - or SMS, is. Where I live in Singapore, it's not uncommon for users to chalk up between a few hundred to over a thousand (or two) worth of text messages per month.

In most parts of the world, operators have adopted a sender-pays model. This is actually quite important because a recipient has little control over the text messages that he or she receives. If the general model is that of charging users for text messages received, then users will demand tools or ways to curtail messages from senders.

The result is that most of the models behind using text messaging in business fail -- or are at least impractical.

Some uses of SMS

I won't be delving into the intricacies of various business models or cost efficiencies here. However, by highlighting real-world usage that I've come across, I hope I'll help you visualize the business potential of text messages.

As a monitoring mechanism

A friend of mine who runs a Web-hosting company with a few thousand hosts uses text messaging to be alerted to failing servers. The idea here is to implement an OOB, or out-of-band monitoring system. OOB refers to communications that occur outside of previously established communications method or channel.

In this case, the standalone system actively monitors the various Web hosts from within the network, sending an alert via a separate channel - in this case, as a text message via a mobile phone network. This monitoring system will work even if a key router or firewall were to fail completely.

In enterprise operations

Where I work, we're in the process of implementing hand-held mobile devices or Smartphones for the delivery guys to track the progress of a delivery.

It will take a while before it's ready though, and the current stop gap measure makes use of text messaging as a way to notify the delivery folks of pick-ups from the call center. The system is designed so that a text message is sent out automatically the moment an order has been confirmed over the phone.

There are actually a number of ways to design an enterprise-centric system for this purpose. I'll elaborate more on them in my next post.

For informational purposes

Ever received an e-mail newsletter? Assuming that there aren't many textual details that need to be conveyed, an "information blast" via text messaging will work too.

Unless your entire workforce is already toting BlackBerry handhelds, text messaging has the advantage of being even more "real-time" than e-mail. It also has a much wider reach since it's more likely that staff will have a mobile phone than a personal e-mail account.

Organizations such as private clubs, or churches, for example, can also use text messaging to keep its members updated of the latest offers or activities.

For notifications of events

Some international courier companies such as FedEx and TNT have already starting implementing notifications via text messaging. Given the relatively low cost of text messaging, if done properly, this can be a way to gain competitive advantage or to give a superior customer experience on the cheap.

As security tokens

In Singapore, most of the major banks employ the use of text messaging as a tertiary authentication mechanism for miscellaneous transactions.

If I were to add a new recipient in my Internet Banking facilities, the banking Web site will send me a text message with a time-limited security code to my mobile phone. Much like an e-mail verification procedure, the new recipient will only be added upon entering the correct security code.

The popularity of text messaging is on the rise. This is further boosted by the generally interoperability of text messages across much of the world and the proliferation of mobile phones. Of course, the situation is slightly different in the in the United States where proprietary networks result in some incompatibilities.

Still, the potential of text messaging due to its ability to reach end-users directly is virtually unlimited. The fact that it costs money to send a text messages also eliminates the majority of spam via this medium - preserving its attraction for some time to come.