META Report: The Future of Instant Messaging

META Trend: During 2002, organizations will pursue “contextual collaboration” strategies

that enable customers, employees, and partners to plan, share, negotiate, coordinate,

build community, and exchange information within applications and enterprise portals. By

2004, collaboration suites will evolve as embedded components and process-specific

services within business systems. By 2005/06, collaboration strategies will exploit

maturing pervasive computing platforms.

The computer industry has never seen a phenomenon like instant messaging (IM). This

simple tool for real-time text messaging and presence detection is a staple in consumers’

online lives, and it is now poised to change decades-old corporate messaging patterns.

Most organizations are using IM whether they like it or not. Unless blocked at the

firewall, end users frequently use outside IM services such as AOL IM/ICQ or MSN

Messenger for business purposes, without central IT group authorization.

Therefore, during the next three years, IT groups will introduce corporate-sponsored IM

services with requisite attention on quality of service, security, and usability to

forestall public IM use. Most organizations will source IM primarily from their incumbent

e-mail supplier (e.g., IBM with Lotus Sametime), though Microsoft will make a broader

push by including IM capabilities in its server operating system (Windows .Net, due

4Q02). But these same organizations will be likely to use other, embedded

function-specific IM instantiations (e.g., CRM) until standards and Web service support

enable a ubiquitous single-vendor solution (2007).

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Three Small Obstacles To Enterprise Instant Messaging

: At a gathering of IM experts this week, one theme becomes clear: IM will become ubiquitous in the enterprise.

The multitude of small general-purpose IM vendors (Bantu, Jabber, Odigo, etc.) will

develop vertical (e.g., supply chain automation) or horizontal (e.g., archiving,

security) expertise and move away from selling generic IM infrastructures. By 2007, IM

will be woven into corporate computing infrastructures, often embedded in applications,

and it will merge with traditional e-mail clients, blurring the currently rigid

distinction between asynchronous and real-time messaging services. The avenues of

evolution will be broad and fast:

  • Archiving: We expect the same tension that exists around e-mail archiving and

    purging to occur with IM. Some corporations may want IM messages archived for regulatory,

    knowledge management (e.g., expertise location), or legal reasons, but others want to

    rapidly and completely purge IM messages to avoid being susceptible to court-ordered

    discovery processes. Therefore, vendors will focus on both areas – complete purging and

    archiving. Microsoft has licensed archiving capabilities from IMLogic and Cordant, which

    provide HIPAA- and SEC-compliant archiving for its Exchange 2000 IM capability, and IBM

    Sametime has an archiving API for third-party vendors (Redmind, Principal Software). We

    expect enterprise search engines to crawl IM metadata repositories by 2004 (not the

    messages themselves).

  • Security and hygiene: Unencrypted messages, viruses, unfiltered messages and

    user identity management are all current IM security and privacy risks. Vendors such as

    Bantu and WiredRed encrypt IM sessions and stored IM messages; we expect encryption to

    become common within two years. PKI vendors such as VeriSign will offer services on top

    of established vendors such as IBM. Auditing and directory-based authentication will be a

    focus. The SEC and NASD have mandated that IM must be treated the same as e-mail when

    used by financial institutions for corporate/client correspondence about equities sales,

    meaning that IM messages must be monitored by compliance officers for illegal activity

    and archived in some circumstances. HIPAA privacy regulations have also been extended to

    IM, and we expect government open-meeting laws to target IM. Likewise, corporations will

    extend e-mail hygiene services (content blocking, spam and virus protection) to IM

    services. Vendors will quickly fill the void, with traditional e-mail hygiene players

    (Tumbleweed, Sybari, Symantec) joining existing IM filter suppliers such as SRA

    International and eSniff. Corporations will extend policy and procedure documents to

    include IM.

  • Management: Like any other corporate application, IT managers will want in-depth

    management tools to determine application health and usage patterns. We expect vendors

    and third parties to aggressively add management and reporting utilities for leading IM

    packages. IM vendors will progressively add intelligent server services like storage of

    contact lists for backup and roaming support, failover, and delivery preferences.

  • Standards: AOL, which holds the key to ubiquitous IM interoperability given its

    size, has dragged its feet in offering any practical plan for broad IM system

    interoperability. We expect it to interconnect point-to-point with other large IM systems

    on its terms only – it has already extended services to IBM (Sametime) and Sun (iPlanet’s

    Portal Server Instant Collaboration Pack) – but we do not expect interoperability with

    Microsoft’s network for the next three years. However, we expect broad industry support

    for SIP and SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and

    Presence Leveraging Extensions), enabling interoperability between SIP-enabled IM clients

    and servers, and ultimately, between SIP-enabled networks. Microsoft and IBM have both

    committed to support SIP, and we expect general use during 2004/05.

  • Integration: IM and presence detection are valuable when embedded within

    applications, enabling communication to occur in the context of the application. IBM and

    Microsoft will expose their IM services via Web services during 2003/04 (most likely

    tunneling SIP through SOAP). Jabber, which has open source and commercial versions,

    currently provides a set of programming interfaces for invoking IM services and provides

    custom IM wireless delivery for Oracle9i applications. IM will be tied to knowledge

    management strategies by 2007, enabling any username in any application to be made “live”

    if that person is online.

  • Feature set:
    Very rich IM capabilities already exist (file transfer, VoIP,

    application sharing, etc.), but the real issues are packaging, usability, and maturity.

    Microsoft’s new Windows Messenger client is a good example of future IM clients: it has

    videoconferencing, telephony, and collaboration capabilities packaged in an intuitive

    bundle. Groove has the most complete feature set (VoIP, IM, chat, shared whiteboard,

    co-browsing, file sharing, shared calendar/contacts), but we classify these features as

    client-side teamware, underscoring the closeness of the two markets (see WCS Delta 1120,

    25 Apr 2002). Videoconferencing will be an IM-derived service, but will largely be

    relegated to consumer use for the next several years. Widespread corporate use of

    IM-based videoconferencing will emerge in 2006.

  • E-mail integration:
    We expect the major vendors (IBM and Microsoft) to merge IM and

    e-mail clients, enabling, for example, an e-mail recipient to detect presence and IM the

    sender from within the e-mail client, or enabling the recipient to turn an IM into an

    e-mail thread. This will correspond to the way users work and will provide users with

    common search, storage, directory, task, and calendar tools across both messaging

    paradigms. We expect to see converged fat e-mail clients (Outlook and Notes) in 2004,

    with full-function Web clients coming 12-18 months later. Microsoft and IBM will add Web

    conferencing features to this client.

  • CRM: We expect IM to take on more intelligence in CRM circumstances, whereby

    server-side agents with natural language understanding and processing capabilities will

    communicate with consumers via IM, as Artificial Life and Active Buddy have recently done

    for sales, marketing, and support purposes.

  • Mobile support: Mobile support (phones, PDAs, Pocket PCs) for corporate IM

    systems is available from vendors such as IBM with specialized servers. But broad

    heterogeneous interoperability is difficult. Three of the top cell phone manufacturers

    (Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola) are developing a standard for IM interoperability over their

    handsets (called Wireless Village), suggesting a strong IM/wireless partnership though a

    wireless/wireline bridge is years away. A wireless IM bridge to traditional IM networks

    is crucial for overall market growth, because users and corporations are hesitant to

    support dual networks. We also expect to see a host of vendors develop IM tools that

    enable users to remotely query corporate applications for real-time data delivery, as

    Intanda is currently doing.

Business Impact: Instant messaging can create business efficiencies by enabling

employees, customers, and partners to instantly coordinate schedules, get quick answers,

and determine the whereabouts of team members.

Bottom Line:Instant messaging (IM) will rapidly evolve into a complex but highly

functional business tool to improve productivity, collaboration, and communication

efficiencies. IT groups must counter unauthorized IM use by offering secure, stable, and

scalable private IM networks within the next two years.

IT analyst firm Meta Group is based in Stamford, Conn. For more information, visit