The Instant Messaging Challenge in the Enterprise

Wayne Rash

One of the common threads in the organizations that I've worked with in the last decade or so is a near ubiquitous use of instant messaging, usually AOL's IM client. Regardless of the publisher, the entire staff seemed to be on AIM, and it proved to be a useful means of asking a quick question or sending out an urgent message. IM was also useful to figure out if someone was in the office before you spent a couple of hours trying to track them down on the phone.

The value of instant messaging isn't lost on corporations of all sizes, but in many companies you can't just download a copy of AIM and start using it. Even assuming you have the ability to install software on your computer or smartphone, you have to do it in a way that meets the approval of the IT department. That approval should only come if your instant messaging doesn't create a security or compliance hole. Chances are, if it's a widely available free IM client, it does.

Fortunately for the companies that need them, there are corporate versions of IM clients. One of the best known is Microsoft's Office Communicator. But Communicator shares a problem with most of the other corporate IM solutions-it requires a specific environment to work, in this case, Microsoft Windows. This may be fine if every device on your network is a Windows device, but what happens if you have an iPhone or a BlackBerry? Basically, you're out of luck, just as you are if you're using Linux or a Mac.

What many enterprises need in reality is a means of instant messaging that's secure, auditable, compliant and that works on nearly any platform out there. I finally found such an IM client when a friend sent me a press release telling about Palringo. At first look, it seemed almost too good to be true. The software is available for the top three desktop operating systems, as well as for every mobile phone out there. It doesn't even require a smartphone-something as simple as a Motorola RAZR with Java will run the client.

While Palringo isn't the slickest interface in the world, it does connect with other users on the same Palringo network, as well as with other IM systems including AIM, MSN, Google and Yahoo, ICQ and a number of others. There's more than just text messaging here. You can also send photos and use your phone (or computer) like a walkie-talkie.

Implementing a push-to-talk service on devices and networks that don't support it took some doing. Palringo accomplished it by having you press a button and then recording your voice. Once you release the button, your recorded voice is sent to the person on the other end. While there is some latency involved, as you'd imagine, it works well, and it's much better than not having a solution, which is the choice for many smartphone users.

The enterprise version of Palringo lets you archive messages for use in compliance monitoring and e-discovery. The Palringo client will even archive messages that are passed between it and non-Palringo messaging systems, so if you use the client to chat with someone using AIM, the conversation is stored. As you'd expect, the communications within Palringo are encrypted so attempts to intercept voice, text or photo messages won't work. There's a free version of the Palringo client for virtually any known platform on the Palringo website. The enterprise version costs money, but it does more, and it's completely customizable.

While the Palringo software doesn't support video, it's still the best enterprise-class instant messaging I've run across. The fact that it's platform-independent provides the kind of flexibility that companies have needed, but haven't found until now.

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