Zinc updates its mobile communications app for neglected deskless workers

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 24, 2017
Zinc updates its mobile communications platform with new features designed to help neglected deskless workers become better informed and connected

Zinc mobile communications for deskless worker
Those of us who work in offices often find it difficult to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those who don't — the two thirds or more of the workforce who spend their working day on their feet or on the road. These workers, prevalent in industries as diverse as hospitality, construction, retail, utiities and healthcare, have therefore been ill-served by apps designed by office-based product managers, software developers and entrepreneurs who don't share their work experience.

Zinc, which introduces a new release of its app today, aims to plug that gap. It's a mobile-first, enterprise-grade communications platform designed for a section of the workforce that its CEO Stacey Epstein believes has been ill-served by the tech industry:

They're just grossly neglected when it comes to technology and communications — but they're arguably the workforce that needs communications most because they're siloed in the field.

She cites research recently commissioned by Zinc which finds that almost 80% of deskless workers say a lack of timely information is holding them back from doing their job effectively. Because they're often unable to retrieve email and rarely visit an office, they miss out on urgent messages, such as safety alerts, which are typically distributed via email. A third of companies still use physical bulletin boards to circulate messages to staff, the survey finds. And 17% of deskless workers told researchers they get important or urgent company information through phone trees — that's right, relying on a chain of people relaying the message by phoning each other.

'All mode' mobile communications platform

Zinc is now the first "all-mode" mobile communications platform that serves these workers, says Epstein. Instead of having to hop between different communications tools — voice calls, Skype meetings, WhatsApp or iMessage — they can use Zinc for messaging, voice and video communications, as well as broadcast messages sent to groups of workers. The new release adds a 'Push to Talk' audio streaming function, which allows the app to function just like a 'walkie-talkie' radio handset.

This new capability is useful in situations where team members need to stay in touch with each other using an open channel rather than having to initiate a point-to-point call. Epstein gives the example of a team co-ordinating an event in a hotel, where everyone is engaged in activities but listening in for updates from other team members.

You could phone or make a group call, but there is something that is much more passive about a radio. They literally just need to be talking and know that the people that need to hear it are there. They need the live ability to tune into an open channel that's always communicating.

Another new feature in this release is a 'hands free' mode where the app will automatically read out incoming messages without the worker having to interact with the phone, for example while driving.

Deskless worker communication patterns

New analytics have been added in the latest release, which allows administrators to get extra insights into communications patterns among deskless workers. A new conversation map capability helps to visualize how communications flow through the organization. This helps understand which groups are communicating well, who's participating and who isn't, or can correlate communications patterns against performance outomes. It can also show patterns of ad hoc groups being formed, which can help organizations recognize recurring issues that teams are dealing with.

A refresh of the application UI is the final component of the new release, along with the launch of a new-look website.

Zinc closed an $11 million round of venture finance earlier this year, led by new corporate investor GE Ventures. Other investors include Emergence Capital, CRV and Hearst Ventures.

My take

Zinc continues to listen to its users and deliver functionality that's designed around their needs, providing capabilities that make sense in a deskless context. It may not be glamorous, but with more and more workers becoming mobile as computing gets more connected, this is a growing segment of the workforce.

As we've pointed out in recent coverage, conversational UI is becoming more prevalent as a means of interacting with enterprise applications via voice or messaging:

Previously, we had to actually visit each individual application to find information or complete an action. But now all of that workflow can happen in the messaging layer — and the underlying applications become ‘headless’ as those individual screens and command lines we had to use before now become redundant.

A communications platform like Zinc therefore has a potentially pivotal role in delivering those headless apps to deskless workers, bringing transactional systems seamlessly into their workflow. As Epstein explains:

Communications apps can be the front end to literally every enterprise interaction.

For me it's [use cases such as] checking inventory, or get details of a work order, or maybe run through a checklist on completing a job.