Ironically, says Joy Rio, business development director at text messaging specialist Primetext, it may be the success of SMS in the youth consumer market that is delaying its adoption as a business device.
"There is a perception that SMS is only a young person's tool," she says. "Its success in the youth market acts as a deterrent to take-up in the business sector.
"If, like many senior business people, the first knowledge you had of SMS was as a teenage chat tool, you would probably place it in the same category as chatrooms and Pokemon cards."
To make use of SMS, Rio says a business must first decide where it fits within its overall communications strategy. SMS cannot replace voice calls or e-mails. Rather, it fits in between the two.
When looking at how text messaging can be used in the workplace, Rio says a useful analogy would be to look at how the fax has been adopted. "For large documents, the fax is cumbersome and one would typically use the post," she says. "For small, urgent documents, fax is ideal. So it is with SMS."
A second factor is cost. "SMS will almost always be cheaper than voice calls to mobiles. This is particularly true if the mobile user is roaming abroad, or where there are multiple recipients," says Rio.
SMS also offers benefits of speed and convenience. "Every message you receive contains a phone number, so you can use the number without re-keying. An urgent message can be sent to a large group of people a lot faster than via other media," she says. "Another application would be to allow somebody to communicate discretely from within a meeting, for example, to check product availability."
The key is to identify tasks that are suited to SMS, says Rio. "Mobile phones have small displays and do not support text formatting, so reading a long document is inappropriate," she explains. "Most phones have limited memory, and storing a large document is a problem."
However, Rio says, in the future, enhanced and multimedia messaging services are likely to provide richer content over the same messaging mechanism.
It is already possible to send SMS data between phones and PCs.
"My favourite application is one taken up by a recruitment company, which uses SMS to notify candidates of new vacancies," says Rio. "Money is saved and, by filling positions more quickly, it is improving the service to clients.
"The savings come from the lower cost of SMS compared to a voice call to a mobile phone. It also saves the recruitment consultant's time since he can send an SMS to all potential candidates with a single click.
"In today's business climate, anything that saves money has to be taken seriously."
This was first published in September 2001