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IM at work: Good or evil?

For better or worse, instant messaging is growing in popularity.

Like cell phones and PDAs, this communication tool is not making its way into businesses through the IT shop, but instead it's coming in through the back door. Employees are installing IM applications on their own because they find that it's a useful tool.

Banning IM is no longer an option, but ignoring IM is not an option either.
Often it is the sales and marketing staff that initiate IM as a means of contacting customers -- stating that it's far more efficient than e-mail. They've learned that to land a deal, it's best to communicate with a customer in the manner that the customer wants to be approached, so they often use two, three or more IM services.

That's great for cutting deals. But it also poses a major IT challenge. IM can open security vulnerabilities. And for industries such as financial services, where IM has seen incredible uptake, the free consumer IM systems are a problem because they don't have the logging functions that are required by law.

But when businesses turn to enterprise class IM systems, they find that many of them only allow for internal communications. That may help some departments communicate better, but it prevents the sales staff from communicating with valuable contacts who use consumer services, something most businesses would not want to do.

Most analysts are urging IT departments to get out ahead of the issue and start setting up policies for IM. Banning IM is no longer an option -- and can be a poor business strategy -- but ignoring IM is not an option either.

Last week, two of our editors squared off on this very topic. Editor Kara Gattine says IM use can improve productivity and ease communication, but editor Margaret Rouse says IM apps are distracting and open your network up to attack.

How are you coping with IM use in your business? What's working, what's not? Let us know.

This column originally appeared in our exclusive e-mail, This Week. To get weekly columns from our editors in your inbox every Monday, edit your user profile and select Updates on New Site Content.

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