ARE they valuable business tools or corporate time-wasters? This is the debate surrounding instant messaging and the new wave of collaboration tools – blogs, wikis, RSS and others – that are threatening to challenge the established corporate ‘productivity’ tool of choice: email.
The appeal of such tools is obvious – they help to tackle information overload, much of it email-induced. Unlike email, instant messaging (IM) is not a broadcast medium that swamps users with a deluge of information. Similarly, users elect whether to subscribe and read information from blogs and wikis, often using RSS (really simple syndication) to have content delivered to them.
At this point, the case for alternatives to email for business communications is being proved by the growing – if cautious – adoption of instant messaging.
“Instant messaging is where email was fifteen years ago,” says Jeremy Burton, a senior vice president at information security vendor Symantec. “But the uptake is slow because at the moment IM is not ordained by many IT departments.”
“Technology gets good when there is a compelling business requirement, as is happening in areas such as satellite communication and voice-over IP."
Jeremy Burton, senior vice president, Symantec
These sentiments are reflected in a survey conducted by Internet service provider NTL Telewest that shows only 30% of UK employees have access to instant messaging. But in spite of patchy uptake in the UK, instant messaging is coming of age. According to analyst group IDC, more than 28 million business users worldwide are now sending 1 billion plus messages every day.
This is driving companies such as Symantec to position themselves to take advantage of the expected explosion in IM use. In January, it acquired corporate instant messaging specialist IMLogic in order to provide organisations with an integrated software platform for security and archiving of both instant messages and emails.
“Technology gets good when there is a compelling business requirement, as is happening in areas such as satellite communication and voice-over IP, says Burton. “And, unlike email, instant messaging will not take fifteen years to get going.”
And the email backlash goes further than IM. Companies such as investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein are also enthusiastically embracing wikis (online information resources fed and updated by users) and blogs.
The question that will be answered in coming months is: do such tools reduce the information overload or augment it?
Further reading in Information Age