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1/5/2012
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Texting: Better For Fast Answers Than Email In Business?

Is texting the preferred form of quick communication in corporate environments?

Texting has become the choice method of communication for quick-and-dirty message-passing between corporate employees, more so than e-mail or phone calls.

That's the claim made by Peter Sisson, the CEO of Line2, a company which lets you add multiple phone numbers to a single phone for the sake of keeping work and personal calls separate.

Line2 supports texting as well, and while researching the use of texting among corporate customers, Sisson made a surprising discovery: texting was fast becoming one of the standard ways to ping a fellow employee or tap their shoulder.

"One-third of our customers are using texting for business," Sisson told us in a phone interview, "and they're doing it primarily because you get a faster answer to a simple question that way."

The rise of texting and email -- more the former than the latter -- has coincided with a decline in voice calls, something that Line2 has good reason to pay close attention to.

This behavior is prevalent even amongst users with smartphones that support email, because of the different nature of an email versus a text.

"When you email someone," Sisson explained, "you expect a response within a few hours or a day. But if you need a quick answer to a simple question, you'll text them. And as more businesspeople are on smartphones, you can do that all the more easily. If I'm headed into a meeting and I need a number or something from one of my VPs, I don't email them, because there's a risk he won't check his email. Text him, and I get an instant response. It's intrusive, to be sure, but not as intrusive as a phone call."

Line2's researched revealed that texting was mainly used by younger corporate employees -- the under-30 set -- to get quick answers or to perform on-the-spot logistics ("I'm running late," "The meeting room has changed"). The age of the employees in question has more to do with their uptake of texting than the company itself, although any company that provides its employees with a phone that doesn't support texting well (e.g., not a smartphone) is likely to experience a backlash. "If I had to choose between emailing and voice with no texting, I'd feel like I was missing an arm -- and I'm forty-nine, so I can only imagine what people in their twenties and thirties feel."

In Sisson's view, voice calls, email and texting all serve different needs. "Email's slower, and is more about the need to cogitate, respond to more complex requests -- it's not really time-sensitive. Texting is simple answers to simple questions. Voice calls are about when you actually mean business; you're not going to cut a deal in a text message."

The corporate security implications of texting are less clear. It's not the carriers that's typically the weak link: most phone companies do not retain text messages in their system for more than a few days. But they are stored passively by the devices that send or receive them, which means IT managers need to always pay attention to how securable those devices are.

Sisson's own service is primarily aimed at the individual user, with the BYOD crowd as an up-and-coming target. "We don't yet have an enterprise version [of the Line2 service]," said Sisson. "That would involve something like a centralized admin panel for IT people to provision the lines, and that's easy enough, but right now we're focused on generating awareness of the service via prosumers who need a second number for their business."

Smartphones are quickly becoming dual-use devices (work and personal) by default. Third-party products like Line2 reflect this, but the phones themselves are becoming built more and more along such lines. Consider LG's dual-use smartphone, which employs VMware to keep the "work" and "personal" facets of the phone entirely separate from each other. AT&T Toggle, an enterprise business app for Android phones, allows some of the same functionality as well.

But texting is a technology unto itself, not attached to any particular device. IT needs in time to find the right kind of oversight for it if it's becoming that much more of a business communications method.

Based on Long Island, NY, Serdar is founding senior editor managing reviews at BYTE, the former open source technologies columnist for InformationWeek, and a regular contributor to many other information-technology publications. Follow him on Twitter as @syegulalp and email him at Serdar@BYTE.com.

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