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What are the prospects for RCS and OTT apps? Will AI shape the future of enterprise messaging? And will new form factors change the way people interact with brands? A panel of experts explored how messaging is driving digital transformation at MEF’s Future of Mobile Summit supported by Realnetworks and Sinch.

For the 100,000+ people who poured into the FIRA this year, messaging matters.

Why? Well, there’s the personal factor. The vast majority of visitors are users. They would have arrived in Barcelona having received useful texts from their airlines and hotels.

Then there’s the fact that enterprise messaging earns the telco space $17 billion a year. To an extent, it’s keeping us all in jobs.

Watch the Future of Enterprise Messaging panel from MWC 2019 in full

At MWC19, MEF held a Future of Mobile Summit supported by Realnetworks and Sinch. To kick it off, Mobilesquared’s Nick Lane discussed messaging with a panel of experts comprising:

  • Robert Gerstmann, Chief Evangelist, Sinch
  • Johanna Kollar, Head of Communication Products Partnerships – Africa, Google
  • Eugene Oksman, Vice President & GM, mySalesforce
  • Surash Patel, VP and GM Messaging, RealNetworks
  • Oscar Gallego, Global Head of Smart Commuication & Security, Vodafone

Here’s a summary of the conversation…

What is the state of the enterprise messaging market?

Nick Lane kicked off the discussion with some quick market estimates looking at how RCS and other rich media messaging channels might impact a healthy enterprise messaging marketplace.

Mobilesquared says the sector is currently worth around $17 billion, with operator-led channels (ie SMS) controlling most of the revenue. Why is this? Because of reach. Simply, four billion phones can receive texts – a huge addressable market compared with OTT apps.

However, the enterprise messaging space is at a crossroads. The OTTs are rising. WhatsApp launched its business service a year ago, and Lane reckons three million enterprises have registered. WhatsApp averages 8.3 million end users in each of its 180 markets.

Clearly, the pressure is on the telcos to accelerate the roll out of RCS. Lane says the enterprise messaging market is on course to grow to $28.7bn in five years even without RCS. However, with a full RCS roll out he believes the sector could generate $41bn.

Yes, $13bn extra.

Is the future of enterprise messaging omnichannel?

Today, SMS still dominates enterprise messaging. But change is imminent, with OTT apps, social media and RCS providing alternative options. So will one channel emerge to dominate?

The panel mostly thought not. They painted the future as omnichannel. Why? Because consumers will ultimately decide, and they will assign different channels for different uses.

Robert Gerstmann said: “Consumers are shaping the future direction (of the market). Brands need to delight consumers, and MNOs and service providers like Sinch have a responsibility to enable this for enterprises.”

Johanna Kollar described how this is playing out already. She said: “In emerging markets, users were doing business over WhatsApp before WhatsApp for Business existed. They didn’t need an official channel. When you put the power of these channels into peoples’ hands they utilise them in creative ways.”

“66 per cent of consumers want their issue resolved in 10 minutes,” added Surash Patel. “It’s effectiveness they want. And they will choose the right channel for that brand.”

Eugene Oksman echoed this. He stressed that brands should harness all channels to stay on the right side of impatient consumers.

“Customers have huge expectations because they have this tech in their hands. They know what real-time is like. When brands make customers jump through hoops, they will remember that. Brands need to give useful contextual answers to make sure their customers are happy.”

Oscar Gallego agreed that people want a choice, But he also stressed that some channels are clearly more suited for business than others.

“Do I want to mix my social media and my banking? For me, my banking channel doesn’t mix with the channel I use for meeting friends later on. I am not saying there’s one channel. I am just asking: What values does this channel stand for?”

Is RCS the future of enterprise messaging?

When it comes to RCS, Vodafone has been one of the most supportive MNOs. Oscar Gallego believes strongly in the channel for three reasons.

1. Reach
2. Trust
3. Ecosystem

He expanded as follows. “Reach is key obviously. A channel that has reach might be no-brainer but without trust it can become poisonous – I don’t need to elaborate. We all watch the news.

“(With RCS) there is an ecosystem with payment, UI and so on. Yes there are other players who have these features, but the important thing is how you put these things together. That is where I think RCS is a cracking channel.”

Robert Gerstmann agreed. And he urged the MNOs to get a move on with deployments. “RCS has obvious strengths over OTT apps, although WhatsApp has a huge advantage in coverage. There should be urgency from the MNOs. My customers are already asking: where can I get rich messages out today?

What role with AI play in the future of messaging?

The consensus was that artificial intelligence is central to the evolution of the channel.

Eugene Oksman pointed to the changes that have already happened as a clue to what’s coming next. “Look at keyboards. They were dumb 10 years ago and now they can practically type sentences for you. So I think we will see exponential improvements in what AI can do.

“This will have to happen on the client side with digital assistants that can read messages and make decisions. And also on the business with AI that collects lots of data to make actions relevant.

“I think brands that don’t invest in AI will be replaced by start-ups that do.”

Surash Patel added: “AI will play a big part in our future. Our experiences will get disrupted again and if we utilise technologies like AI, we will be having very different conversations with each other in ten years’ time.”

AI aside, the panel pointed to mixed media, headsets and spoken UI as other possible directions for messaging.

Oscar Gallego said: “We need to invest in experience. I see mixed reality becoming reality. And I see more and more interfaces that merge voice and messaging. But we need to think about how to avoid spam in such an intimate environment.”

Johanna Kollar echoed this. “I hope we have extremely personalised AI so that the interactions I have with brands are very personal: something in my ear or in my eyeglass. There are obviously privacy challenges, but they are not insurmountable. I hope we get there.”

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF