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Join the IM party

December 9th, 2005

Instant messaging (IM) was never invited to the communications party in the enterprise – it crashed the party, and now IT managers are finding themselves in a position where they must find a way to control IM before the dining room table gets smashed.

Radicati Group has estimated that IM is now the business tool of choice for 85 per cent of all companies worldwide. The total number of unsecured public IM service users – the AOLs, Yahoos and MSN Messengers of this world – stood at around 200 million at the last count.

The staggering increase of public IM users in recent years is a direct result of the business benefits. Finding the status of a colleague or friend via a persistent internet connection, sending a short text message in real time to anyone worldwide, integrated file transfer, voice and video calls and the ease of use when installing and adopting the public IM service – all these are factors that contribute to IM´s continued success.

Windows XP already includes MSN Messenger, removing the need to install an application, however all public IM systems are easily and freely installed in minutes and for those with colleagues on multiple platforms there are systems such as Trillian that allow a user to connect to all networks simultaneously.

The risks of leaving IM unmanaged in the enterprise are well documented, but fears over security should not be a deterrent to an enterprise that is looking to adopt IM for the first time.

According to a Radicati study, threats to enterprise security (including viruses and worms introduced via IM), the need to comply with industry or government regulations, and worries over the inappropriate release of sensitive or confidential information, could ultimately lead to nearly 20% of all IT managers taking proactive steps to block employees from using public IM services.

However, the complete abandonment of IM in the workplace is not an option. Highly productive staff may depend on their buddy lists to accelerate workflow and direct mission-critical processes. Having become accustomed to partners and team members worldwide being so close at hand, the last thing employees will want to do is return to slower, older communications and messaging technologies, such as the telephone, fax and email.

In three years an office environment without IM will be unthinkable. The security threat can be tackled by establishing clear policies of appropriate or inappropriate use, logging of traffic and decisions on policy regarding voice and video and file transfer over IM.

Worm and phishing activity, which has involved the use of instant messaging as a vehicle for criminal attacks, has hit headlines regularly in the technology pages in 2005. But it is important that a climate of fear is not allowed to develop.

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