Can WeChat Catastrophe?

by Colin Berkshire

It seems clear to me that chatting appls (like WeChat) are emerging as a major trend in personal and business communications. Everybody in China seems to be on WeChat, and I have a number of associates in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand who use it as our primary means of communication.

Chatting is quick and low overhead, and it is fast. I can concurrently communicate on a number of topics and with a number of people at the same time.

But there are some features needed by the enterprise that are missing. These include:

  • The ability for the enterprise to specify “No delivery” hours. To comply with 40-hour workweek requirements it may be necessary to disable chatting during non-business hours for some employees.
  • The ability to archive chat messages. This may be required for legal compliance or to ensure a safe workplace and quality service.
  • The ability to service observe. That is, to monitor or review messages sent, to ensure message content is appropriate.
  • The ability to have a chat session for work and a separate one personally, with the work one preferably being “owned” by the company.

These are all the same things we do with email, and this is why consumer-level apps are a catastrophe waiting to happen in the enterprise.

The basic problem really is that chat protocols are proprietary. You can’t build client software. So it is not possible for a company to offer enterprise services for the main chatting apps such as iMessage for Apple and WeChat for Asia.

We need to adopt an industry standard for the transmittal of Chat messages. This needs to allow interoperability. And, it needs to include the idea of proxy services, such as required in the enterprise.

Speaking from an HR perspective, WeChat is the biggest opportunity for employee lawsuits that I can think of. It posses these risks:

  • A claim for overtime pay, because employee worked outside of paid hours.
  • A claim for harassment because the employer failed to monitor and provide a safe workplace.
  • The inability to comply with regulatory or insurance company retention requirements.

Because personal and work communications are intermixed on a single account owned by the individual, an argument exists that trade secret information communicated via WeChat has lost its “confidential” status and protection.

Chatting is a wonderful advancement. But it needs to be tamed for the enterprise. Many enterprise UC solutions include this functionality, but since they don’t have anywhere near the user base of the popular apps, it isn’t enough. The apps need to provide proxy services and interoperability.