Enterprise Instant Messaging Grows

Two friends communicating via a common instant messaging (IM) service probably don’t consider the chance that someone else is covertly listening in on their conversations. Two co-workers in the same company using the same service, though, probably should be concerned about security — especially if they’re discussing a major contract, merger or other kind of information that could catch the eye of a hacker or competitor.

A new study from Gartner Inc. said that free IM services will be found in 70 percent of companies by 2003. But those services will be implemented by end-users without IT organization sanction or support, Gartner warned.

“The rapid proliferation of IM use has resulted in individuals employing a vital communication medium without forethought,” said David Smith, vice president and research director for Gartner.

Smith likened the upcoming enterprise IM boom to when e-mail first took hold in the corporate world. “It took more than 10 years before enterprises recognized and effectively addressed problems of (e-mail) security, reliability and business policy,” he said. “Enterprises must pay proper attention to IM usage now, lest they repeat the painful lessons taught by e-mail.”

Companies shouldn’t be afraid to expose their employees to IM technologies, though. Gartner said that if properly managed and integrated into business workflows, instant messaging has the potential to dramatically increase a company’s ability to operate as a real-time enterprise.

“Businesses that make effective use of IM will have a competitive edge over those that don’t,” the company said in a statement.

Enterprises should understand the formal and informal business processes that have developed around IM within their environment, Gartner also said. IM is used routinely by millions of workers to expedite or facilitate all sorts of business transactions.

In the free IM space, Microsoft and AOL Time Warner have been gearing up for a market share battle. Gartner analysts said, though, that no clear winner will emerge in the near future. Microsoft and AOL Time Warner compete in only a small subset of each other’s businesses, but the highest growth area for both is where they compete. AOL Time Warner is consumer focused, while Microsoft’s broader vision, along with its ability to generate an ecosystem, gives it great potential moving forward.

Content is an area in which the two differ dramatically. AOL Time Warner is all about content – both its own and in its relationships with others. Microsoft will rely almost exclusively on the content of others, and its relatively open strategy will work to its advantage, Gartner also said.

“Because the future of the pay-as-you-go Internet is at stake, consumers and vendors should expect continued clashes between AOL and Microsoft,” Smith said. “The struggle will unfold on several battlefields and individual deals may be cut, but they would not have settled their differences. That could take many years.”

Gartner analysts provided their detailed analysis on instant messaging during Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo 2001 flagship conference, which took place last week in Orlando, Fla.

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Editor’s note: This story first appeared on InstantMessagingPlanet, an internet.com site covering IM in the enterprise.