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September 16, 2013

Apps put employees' personal devices to work

A handful of tech companies are betting that smartphones will eventually serve a different role in the workplace than they do outside.

The "bring your own device" trend — employers cutting IT budgets by requiring employees to use personal phones instead of company-provided devices — creates a need for a new generation of special workplace communication apps, some entrepreneurs say. A recent Gartner report estimates half of employers globally will implement a "BYOD" policy by 2017.

The market has drawn the attention of start-up CoTap and corporate veteran BlackBerry, which both plan to release new workplace texting platforms in the next few weeks. Voxer, which lets users record and send sound bites, unrolled a business version of its consumer app about a month ago.

"In any industry, all companies, no matter what you do, your employees need to communicate with each other," said Jim Patterson, founder and chief executive of CoTap.

The San Francisco-based start-up recently raised $5.5 million to create an iPhone and Android app letting employees text without exchanging phone numbers. Patterson was formerly chief product officer for Yammer, a tech company that created social networks for business clients.

CoTap is intended to serve as an internal communication channel. After signing up with work e-mail addresses, CoTap users can text anyone else in a business's directory — alerting co-workers if, say, they're a few minutes late to a meeting or a conference room changed, Patterson said. Normally, one could text a co-worker if they had that person's phone number, but "if you don't, you just wouldn't bother."

Corporations are still grappling with the security issues associated with using personal phones to conduct private business. And Patterson acknowledged that such services may wind up adding to a company's costs. His company is still working out pricing models — the app will initially be free for consumers.

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