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Enterprise IM leaves non-financial firms wanting

Even though enterprise IM choices lack interoperability with public services, IM Planet speakers offered a few reasons why the systems are worth considering.

BOSTON -- If financial services firms can have an instant messaging platform that interoperates with public IM services, then why can't every other enterprise?

During Jupitermedia Corp.'s Instant Messaging Planet Conference & Expo last week, attendees posed that question repeatedly to a panel of industry experts, who offered few satisfactory answers in return.

Panelist Peter Plaschka, lead interoperability architect with Reuters Messaging, told attendees that, when his company's latest enterprise IM offering is released this summer, it will be the only one on the market that allows users to exchange messages with users of Microsoft's MSN Messenger, America Online's AOL Instant Messenger and IBM's Lotus Instant Messaging.

But Plaschka said Reuters Messenger is only being sold to financial services companies. "Our goal is to bring the financial community together with one IM product," Plaschka said.

That means a company outside of the financial industry looking for an enterprise IM product that interoperates with popular consumer IM services -- like MSN Messenger, AIM and Yahoo Messenger -- won't be able to find one, because no such product exists.

"We're all working very hard to solve this [interoperability] problem," said Jon Sakoda, vice president of products with Waltham, Mass.-based IMlogic Inc.

Still, the panel tried to convey the merits of corporate IM products on the market today.

Maxime Seguineau, chief executive officer of New York-based Antepo Inc., said that companies such as his offer software to help users build their own secure messaging platforms linking disparate IM environments.

Eric Young, director of field services for FaceTime Communications Inc., said that a company shouldn't let interoperability challenges prevent it from using instant messaging as a business communications channel. Plaschka agreed, noting that, even without interoperability, today's enterprise IM systems still offer advantageous features for businesses, like secure, real-time communication; conversation recording and archiving.

Tom Buoniello, vice president of product management for Sybari Software Inc., in East Northport, N.Y., said such systems can also help firms keep a tally of which files are coming in and going out via IM. That way, he said, a company can enforce the same security policies for IM and e-mail.

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Bob Serr, chief technology officer for Parlano Inc. in Chicago, said public IM providers could enter the enterprise market and quickly solve the interoperability issue. If that doesn't happen, "the use of consumer IM is going to have to vastly change or go away for the enterprise," because the security risks involved are just too great.

Still, attendees expressed confusion and frustration regarding their enterprise IM strategies. John Holden, an attendee and IT manager with a Fortune 500 company that he declined to name, said that asking whether enterprise and public IM systems can be interoperable is like asking whether it's possible to achieve peace on earth -- it is, but it would take unprecedented cooperation.

Holden said he believes that a startup or another upstart vendor will emerge to offer an enterprise IM service that is interoperable with the consumer services. He said that his company's employees use multiple public IM clients without the authorization of IT, but eventually he expects to implement an enterprise system for business use. Ideally, this system would limit the use of consumer applications to non-business messages.

Read more stories by News Editor Eric B. Parizo.

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