In the Enterprise, IM Still Struggles to Get its Message Across


In many cases, technology that starts out in the consumer sector migrates to the office. It is almost as if we have replaced "take you daughter to work day" with "take your favorite electronic device to work day." This happened with Wi-Fi, it happened with smartphones and it happened with instant messaging. In each case, smart vendors saw an opportunity to add the features-some systemic and fundamental, some cosmetic-that made the technology ready for business use.


The bottom line is that good ideas for consumers, if properly adjusted, are good ideas for businesses. In the case of IM, however, the adoption rate of corporate platforms has been inconsistent. A step in the right direction was made today as Thomas Reuters launched Reuters Messaging (RM) Interchange.The platform enables workers using Cisco's Jabber XCP, IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Live Communications Server/Office Communications Server to communicate with each other fluidly. The piece says that RM Exchange offers carrier-grade connectivity without making IT departments link each platform separately. In addition, companies joining the network get access to the Reuters Messaging community, which the release says consists of more than 130,000 end users in 5,000 firms.


IM, of course, has been in the enterprise for a long time. Just how long is suggested by this FaceTime press press release, which was posted by MSNBC. It says that its products have been the marketplace leader, measured by revenue, in the instant messaging management sector for five years. The company works with Microsoft OCS and IBM Lotus Sametime on the corporate side and AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, GoogleTalk and MSN in the public IM arena. The release places IM in the unified communication landscape alongside tools such as e-mail and Web conferencing.

Workplace IM raises two interrelated challenges for IT: security and management. Security is, of course, the preeminent worry when bringing a consumer communications product into the workplace. Windows Security does a good job of outlining the threats, which include the same collection of worms, viruses and other forms of malware that attack through other channels. The writer suggests that a strong gateway defense is key to mitigating the threats. A more difficult challenge occurs when employees travel beyond the firewall and use poorly secured public networks.


The management issue also demands attention. An organization has to think through seveal issues in deciding how to incorporate IM. A lot of these issues are fairly complex. They have to do with creating a centralized and consistent approach to UC- and UC-related communications platforms the organization offers to its employees. In the final analysis, handling each new platform as a separate entity is inefficient and cumbersome. Another issue-one that is touched on in this blog from vendor Brosix-is that IM is a great way to relieve pressure on servers stressed by the deluge of e-mails, many of which carry no more information than a typical instant message.


The bottom line is that enterprise IM has not taken off. Bill Pray, an analyst for The Burton Group, offers some insight into why. Enterprise IM seats are less than 50 million, he says, while the number of consumer users number about 100 million more. The benefits of enterprise IM-which he lists -- are hard to argue with. They include better responsiveness, reduced latency in transaction, improved coordination and others. Pray identifies two issues. He says that IT departments don't encourage IM because it is another chore for them-and one with a significant downside, since it is a real time. This means that complaints will start to flow the moment a problem arises. The other big obstacle is that there is something of a disconnect between users and vendors. Vendors, Pray says, perceive IM as part of overall UC platforms, while potential customers judge its potential ROI on a case-by-case basis.