Five messages about IM
By Daniel J. Horgan
(IDG) -- Technology analysts see a bright future for instant messaging (IM). A recent report by IDC predicts that the worldwide corporate IM market will grow from 5.5 million users in 2000 to 180 million users by 2004.
And the Gartner Group predicts that by 2005, 50 percent of enterprises will have moved to a commercial IM service. We talked with the Aberdeen Group's Dan Gardner about the potential for IM in the enterprise.
Why is everyone so high on IM? What are its advantages?
Instant messaging forms a very distinct level of synchronicity between a real live conversation, such as on a telephone, and a fully asynchronous conversation, such as e-mail. E-mail requires a 'back and a forth' with any set of time periods between that, where as instant messaging is more in real-time but still is in a text-based form.
The advantages are that you can do a real-time type of conversation or communication while involved with other sorts of tasks (a telephone call or application activity). E-mail is something that you do and come back to. Instant messaging is something you can embed into a process, (such as) a help desk situation.
On the downside, there are a couple of disadvantages.
IM lacks structure, lacks authentication and lacks oversight in the administration of the enterprise. The benefits of it are in its functionality, the detriments are that it has not been organized and it has privacy and security problems.
How does instant messaging benefit the enterprise?
There's a tactical and strategic benefit to instant messaging for the enterprise. The tactical benefit is yet another form of communication that can be used in conjunction with applications. The strategic benefit is an infrastructure for detecting presence and policy about how people want to communicate. It can be used for much richer collaboration, for knowledge management and for the use and delivery of Web services. Particularly if you've got a portal approach to communications and collaboration, instant messaging offers a very clear advantage over e-mail.
Does IM really waste as much time as some companies fear?
It can be a big time-waster, but more structure and integration (means less time is wasted). If you have people who are instant-messaging their friends at different companies (and) talking about last night's football game, it's a time-waster. If they're using it in a structured, directory-defined basis within their company and if they're talking about business activity and using it for collaboration among different groups across organizational boundaries within the enterprise, then it certainly is not a time-waster. It's a time-saver.
What security concerns are associated with IM?
The packets going back and forth are not secure. Eavesdropping is possible. You don't always know who it is you're dealing with because a lot of the names or handles that people use in instant messaging are things like "Jackolantern658." It's important to have instant messaging used within the confines of a directory or authentication scheme, so that you can determine who it is you're having a conversation with, and it's important to keep it within the firewall so that nobody can view the packets, or to encrypt the packets if they are being used over the public network.
If people are concerned about security and viruses from instant messaging then they should prevent their employees from having open access to the Web and using Web-based e-mail or Web-based instant messaging. If you're avoiding IM because you think it's not secure or opens you up to viruses, you need to second-check that premise and recognize the value it offers.
Will e-mail evolve into IM or will they remain separate forms of communication?
They will remain separate. E-mail does what it does well. Instant messaging is much more of a protocol for collaboration that can span applications and can also be used for application-to-application activity as well as person-to-person. They are separate and distinct with their own advantages. They might start sharing some infrastructure, such as a directory. You might rely less on e-mail and rely more on instant messaging in many respects. I don't see them blurring but I do see them being complementary. It's important to distinguish which one is best at what.
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