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Chatting Up an IM Management Strategy

By Nelson King (Send Email)
Posted Sep 9, 2004


It's arguable that organizations are discovering instant messaging (IM) the same way they "discovered" the PC and Internet — after a significant percentage of their employees were already using it. IM is akin to a text-based telephone conversation. Participants communicate with each other by sending typed messages back and forth over the Internet in real-time. In the past few years, this method of communicating has jumped from obscurity to everyday practice for millions of users.

The huge public IM networks have such a strong foothold that they are the default client of choice in many enterprises — especially in enterprises where IM is not officially sanctioned.
Has instant messaging crept into your enterprise? Rather than banning it altogether, consider developing a management strategy that makes the most of this burgeoning real-time communication medium.

While typing may not be as easy as talking on phone, "conversations" held over IM are quicker and more direct than communicating via e-mail. This has helped IM find a niche, first in personal, and now in corporate, communications.

The huge public IM networks (i.e., AOL, MSN, and Yahoo!) have such a strong foothold that they are the default client of choice in many enterprises — especially in enterprises where IM is not officially sanctioned. The public IM clients are free, well-developed, and often have a subculture of their own, which has added to their popularity. They are called "public" because communication bypasses the enterprise's server and is relayed via the Internet from client to client in a peer-to-peer structure.

The Four Stages of Enterprise IM Acceptance

The downside of public IM is that because it bypasses the enterprise's servers, it brings with it a vast amount of unregulated, unsecured, and uncontrollable communications traffic. In most enterprises, management undergoes a series of reactions:

  • Denial: IM, so what? No one here is using it. We don't support it.
  • Refusal: Shut it all down!
  • Acceptance: Let's see what we can do to manage IM.
  • Opportunistic: What advantages can we get from IM?

Enterprises that in remain denial of IM's use are likely to encounter the most trouble: Federal laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA require corporate e-mail and "similar" communications be archived. Unmanaged IM may also lead to intellectual property loss and wasted employee time. IM is also a channel for virus attacks.

Enterprises in the other three stages (refusal, acceptance, and opportunistic) will seek ways to deal with IM. They may turn to private IM servers or gateways (or both). ServerWatch has reviewed a number of gateway products that offer a range of options to better manage IM in a corporate environment.

>> Acknowledging and Managing IM

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