Mobile Chat Apps Aim to Conquer the Enterprise; Buildings O&M May Be Their First Foothold

Email is the new ‘snail mail’ poised to fall even farther from favor as a means of communication among enterprise workers after the Sony hack. Mobile chat apps recognize it as their entree into the enterprise.

Last month I wrote generally about how mobile messaging and in-app notifications were eclipsing email as a means of enterprise collaboration, and about how these new modes might be a better match for building operations and facilities staff. I made those observations before the December Sony computer system breach. If you listen to Steven Sinofsky, tech venture capitalist, this event will soon be recognized as the moment the tide turned in the movement away from existing enterprise networked server infrastructures and toward cloud services and mobile devices. He makes a solid case as to why this event is the point-of-no-return in his article “Why the Sony Break Matters.”

As I write on December 26th, there are still a great many unknowns about the hack, but the fact of it and some of the revelations resulting from it are enough for me to agree with this one-time President of the Windows Division at Microsoft. Not only were the back-office security measures of the existing architecture proven inadequate, sloppy practices on the part of users of the familiar components of the Microsoft front-office suite – Outlook email and Excel .xls files – were the source of the greatest embarrassment and financial risk to the company. Sinofsky predicts that enterprises, now aware of the magnitude of their own exposure to such a breach, will be rushing to move applications to mobile computing infrastructure as a fresh start to implementing security.

That’s one 2015 trend to watch.  But, there is another storyline emerging from the Sony hack, as well: Consumer mobile app developers feel a sense of urgency to make the transition to enterprise computing in order to monetize their services. In widely reported emails from the leak, the CEO of video chat start-up Snapchat and the company’s VC advisor at Benchmark Capital had an exchange about how to best survive the coming ‘pop’ of the Silicon Valley tech bubble. There was acknowledgement that strastispheric valuations for companies that have never turned a profit and primarily give away software and services for free are due for a correction. The advertising models that converted large consumer user bases into viable revenue streams in the past, when the desktop, browser-based web reigned, are not working for the mobile web. In 2013/2014, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat started asking ‘Beyond snooping upon and advertising to our users, what services can we offer that enterprises will buy?’   

In November the word got out that Facebook was testing ‘Facebook at Work,’ an enterprise team chat service reported to be similar to slack.com, a service I described last month in the general article about mobile messaging and notifications. This is an interesting pivot for the social media platform most often categorized as the place to keep in touch with family & friends. Could selling a secure, ad-free messaging experience be Facebook’s way into the enterprise?  Could a success here rationalize its $19B acquistion of the WhatsApp messaging service in early 2014 — the showcase example of over-inflated Silicon Valley expectations and valuations?

In any event, the market forces of enterprise CIOs rushing to adopt mobile computing modes to mitigate the risk of more hacks, and consumer mobile app developers looking for safe haven in the enterprise, could converge with quite a clatter in 2015. As with plate tectonics, there will be uplift and new terrain created where the forces converge. All signs point to this being the market for a platform for enterprise notifications and team collaboration. Moreover, while facilities management and building operations were among the last (if ever) corporate functions to be integrated into existing enterprise computing frameworks and data stores, they provide some of the most compelling use cases for mobile messaging in the enterprise. So expect an onslaught of attention from mobile app developers in 2015, particularly for apps that use video chat as made popular by services like Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram.  

Photos and data analytics visualizations delivered via video chat might be fast enough to impact conversations and decision-making as they are happening, thus resulting in better outcomes and generally less fractious relationships between building staff, design MEP engineers, automation contractors and purse-string holders. Developers of in-app native communications like www.layer.com explain why these future apps will be so much more than just adding a photo image to an email. “Enabling users to engage with one another in-app and in context is the key to a delightful user experience,” write Layer’s Ron Palmeri. He provides numerous examples in his most recent blog post and one can extrapolate how native messaging will work in a commercial building operations and facilities management context.

While a mobile app developer in the position of Snapchat — a company that turned down a $3B to $4B acquisition offer from Facebook in 2013—doesn’t need layer.com, it is significant to the story to note the technological competencies it did seek to acquire in 2014. It bought a developer of QR code scanning technology, a company developing apps around Apple iBeacon location services technology, and an eyeglass video capture technology company.  All these technologies are quite familiar to the world of building operations and facilities management.  Jim Young of Realcomm penned the background article “QR – Quick Response Codes – A New Opportunity for Building Owners?” about three years ago. BuiltSpace Technologies Corporation has built a business around deploying QR codes and other location-service technologies using cloud-based software and mobile devices. Likewise, DGLogik has offered QR Code integration within its visualization platform since 2012. I wrote about iBeacon technology in retail last Christmas season.

In summary, there is good reason to believe that the greater computing industry — classic enterprise and mobile, consumer and corporate — is just about to enter a time of major upheaval and that mobile apps with native chat will be survivors. However, in Geoffry Moore Crossing the Chasm parlance, they’ll need a foothhold market to proove their worth in the enterprise.  There is a strong case that building operations and facility management will provide that foothold.

Contributing Editor, automatedbuildings.com. Providing news and analysis of innovations in Buildings Control and Facilities Management that leverage Mobile Apps, Cloud Services and M2M Wi-Fi and Wireless Broadband networking.

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