Enterprise IM strategies

Look for features such as encryption, scalability and recording capabilities

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Enterprises are coming to terms with Instant Messaging (IM), finding that it has become the best way to accelerate new forms of collaboration and communication among their distributed workforces and stay productive as e-mail inboxes swell with spam.

For some companies, such as at Jive Software, makers of Openfire (formerly called Wildfire) collaboration tools, "e-mail is the new snail mail" says Matt Tucker, the CTO of the Portland, Ore.-based software vendor. Workers want immediate answers, and waiting for the turnaround on a typical e-mail exchange can seem excruciatingly long.

Plus, "the future generation of workers coming into corporation are familiar with social networking and IM tools. It is their primary communication tool," says Akiba Saeedi, the program director for Unified Communications and Collaboration at IBM/Lotus Software. She says that "IM has become more accepted by corporations, and it will be one of the business tools that will be available in the near future."

The younger generation has in some cases forced IM adoption by enterprises, but the real reason IM is popular is mostly about increased productivity. "Our usage internally varies but there is some heavy usage especially among our younger staff. And if an attorney is talking to a co-worker on the phone, his secretary can alert the lawyer about an incoming call from an important client on the other line via an IM message without interrupting the phone conversation," says Sam Blumenstyk, technology operations manager at the law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel in New York.

Overall, "corporations are starting to see the benefits of IM through enhanced customer relations and substantial cost-savings," says Michael Jones, CEO of Userplane (now part of AOL) in Los Angeles.

Given IM's advantages, "IM is going to be part of your communications suite. It is just a matter of time before more enterprises adopt it," says John Bracken, the business development director at AOL's Business Services unit in Dulles, Va.

But before you bite the IM bullet, here are some questions to answer to formulate your potential IM strategy for your corporation.

Does the IM product offer end-to-end encryption of message traffic?  

Using public IM networks such as AIM means that just like public e-mail networks, messages are sent as clear text from point-to-point. This isn't always acceptable in some corporate environments. Before IM can be deployed as a supported IT application, many companies are looking for end-to-end encryption of their IM traffic.

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