Sigaba expands test of business IM product –

Sigaba Corp.'s secure instant messaging software is getting closer to final release, as the company expands its test program to include companies that are not on its customer advisory board, Sigaba said Tuesday.

Sigaba's product is aimed at financial services, health care or government organizations. It adds functionality such as user authentication, central policy setting and auditing to the standard presence and chat features also found in the popular free consumer instant messaging (IM) applications.

Users can run the IM application in-house, instead of using the servers of a third-party, increasing the security. Also, the IM software works with Sigaba's secure e-mail and secure statements products, creating an integrated secure messaging suite, Sigaba said.

The Sigaba IM application so far has undergone testing by some of the company's customers, which include Bank of America Corp. and Mission Hospital Inc. in Mission, Texas. Other organizations in Sigaba's target market can now apply to be part of the extended test, which will start on Dec. 27, Sigaba of San Mateo, California, said.

"We had a tightly controlled beta for about two months with select customers, now we are expanding the beta test to a larger audience," said Tanya Candia, senior vice president of marketing at Sigaba in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

About 15 companies will be allowed to test the product, Candia said. These companies will have to spend some time with the product and provide feedback. A form to apply to the test program will be posted on the Sigaba Web site next week. No fee is associated with the test, she said.

The secure IM product is expected to be in beta through the first quarter of next year, with general availability planned for early April. The product will be sold directly by Sigaba in the U.S. and by resellers in Western Europe and Australia, said Candia.

IM is rapidly gaining popularity among business users, but free IM software lacks security features critical for corporate use, experts agree. The free applications may cause sensitive data to leak, or open a new door for hackers to get into a corporate network.

Several companies have launched IM products for the enterprise. Sigaba's rivals include IBM Corp.'s Lotus Sametime and Communicator Inc.'s Hub IM. Both Microsoft Corp. and America Online Inc. have also announced corporate IM products.

IM has proven its benefits. About one-third of financial services companies already use IM for customer service, according to a recent Yankee Group survey.

Nearly half of the 506 million IM users expected online by 2006 will be business users, according to analysis firm IDC, which expects the IM market to boom from US$72 million in 2001 to $781 million in 2006.

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