Why is instant messaging so popular as a business tool today?
Basically for the same reasons it's popular with consumers: it is real-time, presence-enabled communication. There are instances where other means of communication have significant weaknesses, whether it is a phone call or sending e-mail. If you need a fast answer, e-mail may not be the best way to contact someone. You don't know how long a message can sit in an inbox. The same is true for voice mail. With instant messaging, you won't get a busy signal. You'll know instantly if someone is available and ready to chat. The promise of real-time communication -- that is the reason that enterprises are taking it up. Employees often bring instant messaging into businesses, and IT departments find themselves playing catch-up to manage it. How are IT departments dealing with IM?
It's a bit like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' 'stages of death and dying.' First there is denial. IT departments say it is not happening. Then once they realize that people are using IM, they want to lock it down, block the traffic with their firewall and get it off the network. Then, without it, companies may see a drop in productivity. Finally, companies realize that this is an important tool, and they will begin to accept it. IT departments need to find ways to manage instant messaging in much the way they manage e-mail. What do businesses need to do to use IM responsibly?
That depends on what industries you are talking about. Some verticals are very aggressive about adopting instant messaging. Financial services companies, for example, have been very proactive. Financial services industries need to comply with regulations around correspondence. These companies need to keep records of what is said over instant messaging, just like they would with e-mail.
For all industries, there are concerns about security. The most stringent approach prohibits people from talking to anyone outside the organization. For those that will communicate outside the organization with business partners, it is important to make sure that communication is secure. In the same way that you make sure that e-mail is not out there on the public Internet for someone to listen in on, IT departments must do the same with instant messaging. It is also important to make sure that instant messaging channels are not a security vulnerability, to make sure that nasty stuff like viruses and worms are not coming in through IM.
Businesses must also have the ability to regulate naming conventions. If, for example, someone working for a big financial services firm uses a screen name like 'bigmuscles' or something like that, that might cause concern about how the company's brand was being perceived. It is important to have some control over how employees represent themselves over IM by using domain names, as you would with e-mail. Who is using it in the enterprise?
In broad strokes, IM users tend to be younger. Often, they are already using it on public networks. What kinds of applications are we likely to see that use presence?
The most important thing about instant messaging is not messaging, but presence, the real-time information about the person or thing or process. I see a lot of vendors beginning to separate their offering into the underlying presence server so that they can put other applications on top of IM. Real-time presence information can move into voice communications. You can have a presence status window on your buddy list that indicates who is on the phone -- tying together presence, instant messaging and the company's PBX. It may also integrate with e-mail.
You may see sales and management systems that can notify an account manager instantly when a field engineer speaks to a client about problems with a product. There might be systems to instantly alert people of problems with machines on shop floors.
Applications for customer service will certainly develop as well. Today, companies use IM for this, but it is expensive, since it uses a live person. It's not as effective as interactive voice response. We may see soon see these kinds of IM transactions conducted by intelligent agents.
In general, we'll see applications that will take information flowing through your enterprise and speed up the time it takes for it to get delivered.FOR MORE INFORMATION: