Problems of using WhatsApp for project management in construction
In a gloomy day in June, a group of men and women took to street to protest against WhatsApp in Guwahati, India. That caught the public’s attention given the app’s user base of 1.5 billion and Facebook earlier acquisition of the company for a huge amount of $1.9 billion in 2014. The protesters denounced WhatsApp for failing to stop rampant false information across the electronic platform. The cause was the so called “fake news” spread through the app that resulted in at least 30 people being murdered. These people were accused for child kidnapping as only “evidenced” by the videos circulated through WhatsApp, the most popular social media app in the country.
Picture: Protest in India against WhatsApp for failing to stop horrific lynchings and seeking for justice (The Guardian).
In many countries, WhatsApp is the primary instrument of communication for ordinary citizens. WhatsApp is faster than email. Its free of charge, and handy and easy-to-use functions, together with the ease of access through internet, have made it one of the most liked instant messenger apps. In India, it has 200 million users in India.
Given the above features, people in the construction industry have been adopting WhatsApp, as one of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for communication with project team members and sharing of project information.
Technical and non-technical issues of WhatsApp in India
The incident in India highlights the vulnerability of WhatsApp to misinformation. The messages and files transferred via WhatsApp are not subject to fact-checking. As content of messages are encrypted end-to-end, the only way to identify untrue information is through voluntary reporting, though WhatsApp has been taking measures to limit the number of forwarded messages.
What caused the peril in India might also include a number of non-technical factors. For instance, there is no mainstream media to provide updates on news and commentaries on social and economic issues. Some turn to social media and never query their credentials. In addition, people with low literacy rate in some areas of India were more susceptible to propaganda and incitements in social media, especially in a country which is famous for its diversity in ethnicities, race and religion.
WhatsApp in the construction industries
The situation may replicate in the construction industries where workers of different backgrounds, and professionals with disparate mindsets and interests in multi-disciplinary project teams, come together for a particular project.
Picture: WhatsApp in construction has become popular.
WhatsApp is a private form of communication. It provides a platform where friends can chat and share information. However, if it is used for business or project management, there may be potential threats to an organisation itself or the relationship with its business partners. As in the India case, any member of a WhatsApp group can deliberately spread false information to mislead others. As it is an unofficial usage, there are no screening or monitoring to ensure the authenticity of the messages and avoidance of abuses.
WhatsApp does not provide functions to separate business from private communications. Its users therefore risk leaking project data to other personal friends when they rely on the app for both project management and instant communication with friends. Although data leak is normally caused by mistakes, the consequence could be disastrous. That is why WhatsApp has introduced a new function for message deletion. But things done are done. It is too late when you realise your messages are spread afar.
The use of WhatsApp for semi-official communications with workmates could also lead to legal or contractual disputes. By joining a WhatsApp group, one’s profile picture and mobile number have to be publicised. Such personal data will enable others to identify his/her accounts in other social media, which is not the original intention of most participants.
Different members of a WhatsApp group may have different understandings or interpretations on the legitimacy of each person in the group. For example, should the Contractor proceeds with an emergent repair work after he notifies the Project Manager but pending his written confirmation in a WhatsApp group? Will it be a case of acquiescence if eventually no response is received from the Project Manager? Using WhatsApp for this purpose is bound to disputes of this kind.
A final remark
To conclude, I would quote The Disadvantages of Using Whatsapp for Business Purposes. It reads:
“While many people have understood the importance of a “Whatsapp for Enterprise” for the internal business communication, less people yet see the importance of the integration of a messaging app into the IT ecosystem. This is an increasingly important component of an enterprise messaging app though. Businesses can automate workflows, accelerate processes, improve operational execution and increase the productivity with an integration of e.g. ERP, CRM, accounting, HR, manufacturing and logistics system into enterprise messaging”.