Thought for the day:Instant messaging equals instant chaos

Instant messaging is a convenient way to talk to colleagues, but Colin Beveridge warns its universal introduction could erode...

Instant messaging is a convenient way to talk to colleagues, but Colin Beveridge warns its universal introduction could erode both bandwidth and productivity.

According to advice from Gartner, every IT director worth their salt should pilot the use of instant messaging within the organisation.

Apparently this new technology could be a critical enabler for a responsive, fast-moving business.

Phooey! That's my view of that little pearl of wisdom. I can't see how corporate instant messaging could ever deliver genuine value. How could I justify the effort and expense needed to try and promote this technology as a serious business tool?

Why am I so antipathetic? Because I know how real people work, and their behaviour doesn't fit comfortably with the essential demands of instant messaging.

For sure, the technology works well and instant messaging can be a real boon to many people, providing easier interaction with friends and colleagues while working online. Or perhaps, more correctly, a distraction from working online.

The key to the success of instant messaging is that both parties to a conversation are interacting, synchronously, through the use of their computer keyboards.

The value of instant messaging disappears faster than an August snowball when either party leaves their keyboard. It's no good sitting there typing away furiously if the intended recipient is no longer reading your output. Or if they were never there in the first place

Let's face it, instant messaging is not a must-do technology.

Most companies already have a far more effective instant messaging system - the telephone. This is a mature technology, the preferred medium of communication for very many people - especially those who hate keyboards and e-mail - and has a wide variety of readily available backup processes, such as secretarial support, voicemail, call forwarding/diversion and the good old answering machines.

So why did we require this backup for our phones? That's simple. Nobody wants to be tied to their desk, permanently available, waiting for the phone to ring.

The same principles apply to instant messaging. Not many people wish to spend their working life constantly exchanging endless typed messages with unseen and unheard colleagues.

Neither do they want a never-ending stream of interruptions from incoming instant messaging connections. At least with a phone, there is an in-built filtering mechanism - most people will only handle one call at a time - so we can focus on a particular topic, rather than juggling a basketful of tasks.

I hope I have convinced you that instant messaging is not all it's cracked up to be, because I think there are far better ways to promote the use of new technology for real business value and improve our standing.

Of course, if we did make instant messaging universally available, I can guarantee that we would immediately see an enormous degradation in our essential network services, as the flood of desk-to-desk gossip and non-business chitchat swamped every last available bit of bandwidth.

Don't believe me? Well that's exactly what happened when we first implemented universal e-mail internally.

So let's show them that we have learned at least one lesson and not jump willy-nilly onto the instant messaging bandwagon.

What's your view?
Is instant messaging a potential boon or a bane for business? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge
is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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