AOL aims for enterprise IM market –

Following months of speculation, America Online Inc. (AOL) is expected to announce a new instant messaging (IM) product for business users Monday, which banks on the success of its wildly popular consumer IM service, AIM.

The company's entrance into the corporate IM market has been highly anticipated, given its strong presence in the consumer market, where AIM leads the pack with 180 million registered users, according to new figures released by AOL.

The AIM Enterprise Gateway manages corporate IM use behind company firewalls, acting as a proxy between business users and the outside AIM network. The gateway allows administrators to manage employee IM use, providing features such as chat logging, auditing and local routing of IMs, according to Bruce Stewart, senior vice president of Strategic Business Solutions at AOL.

Corporate administrators will be able to set up and take down screen names, as well as map users to a corporate directory, allowing them to assign screen names which are the same as users' e-mail addresses, for example.

Administrators will also have the ability to set user controls, such as whether employees are allowed to chat with other AIM users outside of the company.

"Here at AOL, we've seen a grassroots adoption of IM and we continue to believe that it will be a primary communication tool," Stewart said.

Although the corporate IM market has seen an onslaught of would-be providers of late, the Dulles, Virginia, company believes it has an edge due to the significant use of consumer AIM within businesses.

According to Stewart, roughly 59 percent of U.S. companies already have employees using AIM.

"IM is a core competency of ours and we have a reliable and scalable network, making us a natural fit for businesses," Stewart said.

Additionally, AOL expects to add IM encryption to its offerings in the first-quarter of 2003, Stewart said. The encryption will be a premium service, and will require that both users in a chat have the service for the encryption to work.

AOL has been working with VeriSign Inc. on the encryption beta which is currently being tested by 20 corporate customers.

The company's foray into the corporate IM market comes after rivals such as Yahoo Inc. have already jumped in, in an effort to ride the success of its free consumer client. But with AIM's considerable user base and already stealthy corporate presence, AOL is expecting to quickly gain ground on competitors.

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