From SMS to a Mobile App: Accessibility at Opus

Jeff Silver
Co-Founder & VP Engineering
January 31, 2022

We migrated our training experience from SMS to a mobile app. Jeff Silver, Opus Co-founder and VP of Engineering wrote about what led to him to rethink accessibility.

At Opus, we're building the most accessible learning platform for deskless workers. Accessibility at Opus means two things: making sure that a user can access their learning, and that completing that learning is frictionless. This definition led us to build our initial training experience over SMS. SMS successfully helped us reach deskless workers that other learning systems had failed to engage, but today all learning happens on the Opus mobile app.  We’re seeing better results than ever. In this article, I’ll share the problems we encountered that led to us migrating to a mobile app. Creating a training experience that reaches and engages every frontline worker.

A Love/Hate Relationship with SMS

We designed the SMS experience to be optimized for busy workdays, where schedules are unpredictable but learning is still critical. The core flow was centered on texting "GO" to begin a lesson. This flow was made up of about 40 messages back and forth between a user and our automated system. A lesson generally took 3 minutes to complete.

When you build a platform on SMS your product quality ties to the quality of the SMS carrier network. They are not the most reliable bunch. It was common for trainees to experience latency and deliverability issues, making messages show up unexpectedly late or not at all. The learning experience was incomplete or choppy, which made it hard for some trainees to complete lessons. This prevented trainees from learning important job-related skills and completing courses on time.

As we started to solve for more training use cases via SMS, the experience became hard to optimize for. We added features to help trainees access files and receive messages from their managers. Having all of this exist within a single message thread is hard for trainees to manage — they had to learn additional keywords like "MENU" to get back on track. The core issue here is that trainees had to learn how to use Opus on top of the assigned courses.

We also ran into limitations delivering media over SMS. Visuals are a critical part of learning — our customers trust us to send videos, recipes cards, and other media to their teams to communicate key concepts. Carrier issues and restrictions made it difficult to deliver media to our users, so we decided to send media as URLs over SMS. We had no control over this experience either. Sometimes devices would unfurl the link, and other times it would take users outside of their messaging app into their browser, breaking the flow of a lesson. It was clear that SMS was not as accessible as we thought it was due to the quality and clarity issues it created.

Build Fast and With Purpose

These problems started to slow our team down and maintaining the SMS-based system became expensive. We spent time debugging issues with message deliverability rather than building product value for our customers. We invested in latency and deliverability monitoring but often found that there wasn't anything we could do to fix these issues. Debugging problems created from third parties was an investment that wasn't leading to meaningful ROI for our end users.

Initially, we thought that SMS was a necessity to be the most accessible learning platform.  We started to rethink that hypothesis as these problems stacked up. We collect feedback from users. More than 99% are on devices that can run iOS or Android apps. We developed the conviction that once trainees were in a mobile app we could offer the most accessible experience. And so, we began to build.

The Next Generation of Mobile-First Training

Getting people into the Opus app was going to be a challenge. We knew that even small points of friction would get in the way of people reaching their training. We focused on small details to create a truly seamless signup experience — trainees scan a QR code, choose their preferred language, type in their name and phone number, and tap “submit”. This redirects them to the iOS or Google Play Store so they can download the Opus app instantly. Once trainees are in the app they can complete interactive lessons, view company updates, and communicate with managers. The process takes less than 10 seconds.


Building a mobile app was the right decision. Trainees reach out to us to tell us how much they enjoy training on Opus, using words like “faster”, “easier”, and “smoother”. We see incredible adoption and engagement on the mobile app, which means that more learning is happening in frontline jobs than ever before. Entire businesses get onboarded to Opus in less than two weeks, and engagement is up by 20%. I’m proud of our team for being bold, rethinking decisions, and executing effectively.