Enterprise instant messaging

The message is in the medium

Instant messaging (IM) was created in 1996 by four young Israeli friends. Their company, Mirabilis, was sold to AOL for $287 million two years later, and over the last seven years IM has been adopted by many tens of millions of consumers. That take-up has filtered into the workplace, where IM has become a common person-to-person communications tool – highlighting the need for proper security and management software.

Related to that, instant messaging is being integrated into a growing number of collaboration software products, and as an adjunct to document sharing, whiteboarding and other groupware products.

But because of its origins as a consumer medium, IM still has a long way to go before gaining broad corporate acceptance. Some companies have reacted to the lack of corporate control by banning its use outright. Others are worried about security, with analyst firm Gartner saying IM is already creating “worrisome holes” in corporate networks.

To ensure more administrative control, suppliers have begun to offer enterprise instant messaging systems that contain policy-based rules, logging, archiving and encryption. Others are providing hosted services, which can be more easily regulated or run as private networks.


Becoming more compliant

As IM has become a common communication mechanism in corporations, financial and other regulators have demanded that its use be put under scrutiny – a situation underscored by the fact that IM’s person-to-person connectivity can bypass corporate networks. As a result, compliance issues are now a key driver in the development and growth of enterprise IM tools.

Worried that IM was providing an unmonitored environment in which financial traders could exchange information with each other and clients, the US financial regulators the Securities and Exchange Commission has required members to record and log all IM communications in a fixed format for at least two years. New regulations in the US healthcare sector are putting pressure on providers to control and manage IM, and other industries are expected to follow suit as IM messages are now permissible as evidence in legal cases.

Nightmare or corporate assets

“Businesses of all kinds are using IM either with or without the knowledge and consent of their IT departments and executive management.” Gwenael Hagan, vice president of IM specialist Jabber

“It’s much more convenient than email. I use it all the time.” Guy Bunker, chief scientist of storage software company Veritas

“If you run a service that processes some two billion messages a day with more than two million users per day in a dynamically changing environment, it becomes a virtual nightmare.” Ed Fish, desktop messaging VP and general manager, AOL




Product line up

Instant messaging clients

AOL – AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)/ICQ

Microsoft – MSN Messenger

Yahoo! – Yahoo! Messenger

IBM – Lotus Instant Messaging (Sametime)

Jabber – Messenger

Enterprise IM products

Enterprise instant messaging (IM) products provide an infrastructure through which IM client tools run, enabling different levels of security, identity control, presence management, archiving and other aspects of manageability. Often such functions are embedded within wider collaboration suites. Some products provide their own IM client, while others use public IM clients.

Akonix – Tools for detecting and reporting on IM usage and ensuring regulatory compliance

AOL – AIM Enterprise Gateway based on Facetime’s IM Director offering (see below)

Bantu – Enterprise IM suite for security, presence, alert, and logging management

Cerulean Studios – Trillian tool provides interoperability hub for all main IM clients

Communicator Inc – Communicator Hub offers secure, private IM services with strong collaboration, ID and portal management

Facetime – Toolset includes multi-network connectivity, policy-based management, directory integration, security and presence management, and add-ons for call centres.

Gordano – IM add on to the Gordano Messaging Suite, providing secure presence notification, multi-user interaction and session transcription to email

IBM – Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing (formerly SameTime) includes tools for managing security, access/authentication, directory integration

IMLogic – IM Manager monitors, controls and reports on IM activity while applying rules to ensure regulatory compliance

Ipswitch Instant Messaging – Secures IM using encryption, conversation logging and admin tools

Jabber – Jabber Extensible IM includes security, collaboration, identity management and policy-based control, with presence extensible to other systems such as workflow and CRM

Microsoft – Office Live Communications Server provides tight integration with Office apps and with web conferencing platform, Office Live Meeting (formerly PlaceWare)

Omnipod – Desktop based secure IM/file sharing and admin tools

Parlano – Formerly owned by Divine and originally developed by UBS Warburg, Mind-Align enterprise IM tool includes security, collaboration, and compliance functionality.

Reuters – Reuters Messaging is an IM environment targetted at secure real-time communication of financial and other information

Sun ONE – Instant Collaboration Pack provides enterprise IM with presence management, alerts, ID and portal integration, message archiving and conferencing WiredRed – e/pop offers secure IM, web conferencing and alerts

Yahoo! – Yahoo! Business Messenger includes message encryption, virus scanning and user authentication and message logging. Now also offers web conferencing as result of partnership with WebEx




Five step evolution

Enterprise IM is maturing fast. By the end of 2003, analysts at the Meta Group expect 15% of Global 2000 organisations to have deployed private instant messaging networks. By 2005, that adoption will have grown to 70% in 2005 and to 100% in 2007. Meta says IM will have passed through five stages of evolution before it reaches maturity:

1. Rapid consumer adoption of IM;
2. Broad use of public networks (such as ICQ, AOL AIM and MSN) for business use;
3. Use of private IM networks, largely divorced from public networks;
4. Controlled connectivity between private and public networks;
5. Use of ‘intelligent IM’ for person-to-machine connectivity, such as database queries, and embedded functionality.

This last phase will be the longest, starting in 2002 and running throughout the decade.

IM take-up in the enterprise

The number of corporate users of consumer IM products has almost tripled since 2001, according to Giga. But the use of consumer products within organisations is expected to fall in coming years even as the overall penetration of IM into the enterprise grows.

Aside from regulatory and management issues, organisations are increasingly providing more robust and secure enterprise solutions as an alternative to consumer IM, and Meta Group says IM users in the enterprise will increase from 12 million in 2002 to 95 million users by 2007.





IM client tools – AOL AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and others – were all built on proprietary messaging protocols. As a result, they provide little if any interoperability.

However, this looks likely to change, with some suppliers joining together to advocate an IM protocol similar to that which allows the interoperability of different email systems. In particular, the financial sector, an early adopter of enterprise IM, is playing a key role. The Financial Services Instant Messaging Association was formed in 2002 to promote IM standards and protocols laid down by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Bridging services currently exist to allow access to more than one IM subscriber pool, but these still have had to overcome the incompatible barriers. Companies that are currently providing the ability to communicate between different IM services include Jabber, which enables access to public IM networks (such as AOL, Yahoo and MSN) through an open source gateway; and Cerulean Studio’s Trillian provides a free client-to-client connectivity across multiple networks. IBM Lotus Instant Messaging allows users to talk with AOL IM. Similarly Reuters has begun testing secure access between its service and IBM’s Lotus IM offerings, and intends to conduct similar testing with AOL AIM, and eventually MSN and Yahoo! Messenger.

Microsoft provides an add on with Office Live Communications server – MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprise – that lets users communicate with IM clients from other vendors.

Despite these efforts, true interoperability will not be achieved until a common messaging protocol is agreed.



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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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