Enterprise IM lags behind expectations

Instant messaging (IM) has shed its image as a toy for teenagers and gained credence as a bona fide business tool. But IM has not...

Instant messaging (IM) has shed its image as a toy for teenagers and gained credence as a bona fide business tool. But IM has not become as important to companies as some people predicted it would more than a year ago.

In a survey of 164 companies conducted by Osterman Research, almost 30% of respondents said they officially use IM, and another 42% said they would be likely to use it in the future. That figure is significantly lower than what IDC projected about 18 months ago.

In the autumn of 2000, the market research firm estimated that 70% of corporations would have installed IM software by now. In a survey of 72 corporations with more than 1,000 employees that IDC conducted at that time, only 6.9% of companies said they had installed such software.

IDC will publish its latest statistics on IM usage at the end of next month, but last autumn it said there were 18.5 million enterprise IM users in the US. Optimism for use of the technology in business continues. Gartner said that more than 70% of all US companies will use IM by next year.

Some vertical industries in particular benefit from the use of IM, said David Ferris, president of Ferris Research. He cited financial services, the military, education and legal services as key beneficiaries.

Some users agreed that IM is becoming an everyday business tool. Bob Palmer, vice-president of IT at Lenox, said he uses IM daily to communicate with his staff and stay on top of IT projects.

At the YMCA, IM will be a critical tool for speeding up help desk response time and ending "the ping-pong matches with voice mail and telephone," said Jeff Bundy, chief information officer at the YMCA.

Bundy's 30-person staff supports the IT operations at approximately 500 of the YMCA's 2,434 branches. He is running a pilot deployment of an IM and collaboration tool from Groove Networks to improve IT help desk functions.

Despite notable success, IM continues to face hurdles. Some users are hesitant about rolling out IM for security reasons and because of the lack of archiving tools, Ferris said.

There are few products that archive instant messages, he noted, and the use of IM outside a corporate intranet can leave ports on the firewall open while the IM software seeks IP addresses.

One company, InGate Systems, has a new firewall appliance that lets Session Initiation Protocol-enabled messages securely move through without exposing the entire network. The Session Initiation Protocol is a protocol for initiating communications such as instant messaging and Internet conferencing.

Last week, Groove announced that it has a connector that can store IM session information in the document management software of Documentum.

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