Instant messaging finds its way to the enterprise

By Darren Baguley, Computerworld Today |  Software

Despite concerns over security, Instant Messaging (IM) is moving out of teenagers' bedrooms and into the enterprise at an increasingly rapid rate. Some analysts are predicting that instant messaging will surpass e-mail as a communication tool by 2005 and at least one is arguing it is the next "killer app" beyond e-mail.

Is all this just another example of IT industry hype? Are there sound business reasons for deploying IM within the enterprise or is IM just another barrier to productivity, and a dangerous one at that given the issues with security? As so often is the case, the answer to these questions is that it depends.

The IT industry is starting to talk up IM in the enterprise, but to a large extent it is playing catch up -- IM has already slipped in through the back door with some departments within companies adopting IM unbeknownst to the IT department.

Gartner Inc.'s research analyst for IT trends and infrastructure software in Asia-Pacific, Daniel McHugh, predicts that by 2003, 70 percent of enterprises will have some sort of IM client running within the organization -- whether they know it or not.

McHugh adds that Gartner believes that by 2005, 50 percent of companies will be using enterprise-level rather than freeware IM clients, but also that in the same time frame, IM will overtake e-mail as the main means of electronic interaction between consumers.

"Really decentralized, mobile workforces will get a lot of value out of this (IM), McHugh said. "On top of that, any company that does have a very knowledge-centric or even professional services focus, for example law, accounting, and consulting firms. I think the more knowledge-based you are the greater the chance you'll be able to get some business value out of it."

It is, however, almost certainly going too far to say that IM is going to be the next "killer app." IM will not fundamentally change the way we work like e-mail did.

E-mail is now a crucial business tool and most of the people that we would label knowledge workers spend a large proportion of their day in their inbox.

Nevertheless, the security concerns inherent in freely available IM programs such Yahoo Messenger, MSN Instant Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ cannot be overstated.

Put simply, an IM session opens a port to your network, through the firewall if there is one in place. There have been instances in the U.S., where hackers have used an instant message to drop a worm in behind the firewall. In addition, with most, if not all, freeware IM clients there is no archiving of sent and received messages nor is there any encryption -- anything sent via IM could be read by someone with a mind to do so.

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