Instant Messaging: IM Here to Stay
Once a rogue application mostly used to chat with friends, instant messaging is finally taking hold for legitimate business communications. But with the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that messages need to be archived just like e-mail, IM netwo
Long considered a rogue application, company executives are finding that instant messaging is a potential liability.
Since its May 1997 debut as a free feature on AOL, instant messaging has caught on like wildfire. And if it began as a killer app for chatty teens, professionals were soon downloading it, too, not only for office gossip but also for use in legitimate business communications. The Yankee Group estimates that 65 million people worldwide now use IM for business; it expects that number to reach 330 million worldwide by the end of 2005. Despite its popularity, however, instant messaging has only recently received the official nod from IT departments. For most of the last seven years, CIOs looked the other way as staff added one or more of the three most popular public IM programsAOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messengerto their desktops. Besides being instantaneous, the great advantage of IM was that its messages were untraceable. Close the chat window and all evidence of your digital conversation disappeared. As such, managing IM wasnt exactly on ITs priority list. In fact, IM often wasnt supported at all. As Jim Murphy, an analyst at AMR Research, explains, "IT executives felt if they didnt sanction it, they werent responsible for it."
Not anymore. IM is now viewed as a viable communications tool, as actionable as e-mail or the handwritten word. Last year, the SEC and NASD concluded that instant messages are a form of electronic communication, which means they must be archived. Under Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, Basel II and other laws, companies must log and archive all written communications. Although none of the new regulations mention IM specifically, SEC spokesperson John Heine says they definitely apply to IM if the chat sessions contain business-related information.
Be sure to add our eWEEK.com messaging and collaboration news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page: Thats what CIO Brian Trudeau decided last year, when his company, Amerex Energy, a Houston-based global power supplier, realized that instant messaging was a mission-critical application. "We have brokers here who have up to 20 different IM sessions open to all their customers. It is essential that they have these IM clients just like their phone system." Figuring it was just a matter of time before people started using IM to send spam and viruses, Trudeau decided to investigate his options. Says Trudeau: "You dont want to get into the position where youre reacting to a problem after the fact." Tell Your Executive Team: