New IM service for business users launched

Five Across has launched an instant messaging (IM) product for business users

Five Across has launched an instant messaging (IM) product for business users.

The start-up supplier hopes the software will be a workplace alternative to free, consumer-oriented, public IM services and pricy enterprise-class IM systems.

Five Across' InterComm basic IM software can be downloaded and run for free over the supplier's IM network, a model similar to the one adopted by providers of consumer-oriented, public IM services, such as America Online's AIM, Yahoo's Messenger and Microsoft's MSN Messenger.

Additional features are available in InterComm Pro, a more advanced version of the software, which costs $29 (£16) per user.

Unlike consumer-oriented IM services, the InterComm product contains workgroup features designed to allow business users to collaborate on documents, communicate and share files, said Kathy Englar, Five Across' marketing director.

Enterprise-class IM systems are pricy and heavy on security and regulatory-compliance features for the IT department, but weak on features for business end-users, a company executive said.

"Our role is to redefine instant messaging" in the workplace, Englar said. That redefinition centres on the marriage of IM with workgroup/collaboration features, which is why Five Across refers to its approach as "workgroup instant messaging", she said.

Some of InterComm's key features are the ability for users to:

  • Send a message to multiple recipients, even if some of the recipients are offline;
  • Share documents and maintain control of changes and revisions in a central server-based repository;
  • Schedule meetings via shared online calendars.

"InterComm is more project-based, where you need the IM immediacy to be focused on a specific thing," said Genelle Hung, an analyst with The Radicati Group. "There is probably a certain kind of knowledge worker who would find this very useful. I don't think this is something that would necessarily be deployed company wide."

In InterComm, a user organises the people in his IM list by different groups, based on the work relationship he has with them. Each group of InterComm users has what Five Across calls "assets" the members share in a central server-based repository, such as files, notes and schedules.

This architecture allows a user, for example, to only make himself available via the InterComm IM system to some groups and to appear offline to other groups at any given point, based on his work priorities at the time.

"I think this feature is very valuable because a key issue that has made IM not as appealing in the workplace is that it's interruption-driven," Hung said.

Communications occur over Five Across' IM network, and thus outside of firewalls. However, Five Across plans to produce a server product that companies can buy to keep their IM communications inside their firewall, and thus with enhanced security, Englar said.

Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service

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