Instant messaging as a consumer desktop technology has reached the point of being ubiquitous.
But what about all those BlackBerry and Treo users you see at the airport, or on the subway, or in line at your local Starbucks every morning? Are they using IM while sipping latte?
The most recent issue of "The Messaging Technology Report," which is published monthly by The Radicati Group, reports that business users are taking notice of mobile IM technology.
"Within the past year or couple of years, instant messaging has grown beyond the consumer demographic," said Matt Anderson, an analyst with The Radicati Group who authored the most recent issue, in an interview with eWEEK.
The report states that mobile IM usage is "still a very small portion of total IM usage today," and estimates 2.3 million enterprise mobile IM accounts for 2006, compared with 62 million for the total enterprise IM market. However, according to the report, the mobile IM industry will expand within the next couple of years.
"We expect these numbers … to grow sharply in the next two to three years, as demand grows and more cost-effective solutions reach the market," Anderson said in the report.
Anderson also believes that the number of business users of mobile IM technology will increase as vendors shift their focus to enterprises.
"Instant messaging is really beginning to focus on business and enterprise users," Anderson said.
According to the report, with businesses joining the IM landscape, the market has seen a flood of more corporate-targeted IM solutions, such as IM security products and enterprise IM programs.
Today, mobile IM has become part of the solution for business users to be able to be connected to anyone, anywhere, at any time. When it comes to mobile IM, businesses are not only looking to make themselves known, but they are looking to establish their status.
"With mobile IM, presence is vital," Anderson said. "Mobile IM allows users to see the status of their contacts, what they are doing and if they are available."
Anderson believes that this is one of the benefits for business users who use mobile IM.
"Mobile IM makes business users feel like they have their desktops with them at all times," Anderson said. "Things like that make business users feel as if they never left the office, giving them everything they need right at their fingertips."
One knock on Mobile IM has been the issue of security. While Anderson believes that mobile IM is secure enough, users do not feel the same way.
"With mobile IM, there is this stigma attached to it among business users that it is not secure enough, hence not all businesses are jumping on the mobile IM bandwagon just yet," Anderson said.
However, mobile IM services have tried to work through companys issues of security, which could eventually be a benefit for businesses in the future.
"Many enterprises that incorporate IM services will run messages through their system to see what they can track," Anderson said. "Again, for business users, it is all about having the desktop experience with them at all times."
Companies such as America Online, Yahoo, Jabber and Microsoft have all joined the mobile IM wave, and Anderson said Microsoft would like to do more with its mobile IM capabilities.
"Microsoft is really pushing for a unified communications system that will bring together all the pieces of the puzzle," Anderson said. "Mobile IM will be a very important piece for Microsoft. The company is pushing for something that will make mobile IM very important for their customers."
Some technology analysts have expressed concern about whether Mobile IM services will be able to make a profit. For example, Mobile AIM, AOLs service, is free for users.
"Some companies will run deals with mobile providers and carriers where the carrier will charge for usage per month, charge for text messages or something similar to that," Anderson explained. "Other companies charge a flat fee. It really varies."
Still, mobile IM has the potential to make it big in the business world, Anderson said.
"At this point, most businesses would say that they do not need it," Anderson said. "However, the mobile IM industry has a tremendous amount of potential. A few years down the line, when the market is more mature and unified communications grows, mobile IM will definitely have a place in the market," Anderson said.
The value of instant messaging has strong productivity implications, and potential cost-savings, Anderson said.
"With mobile IM, workers do not have to be tied down to their desk in order to get work done," he said. "Instead, mobile IM allows users to be productive from wherever they are at all times."
While the mobile IM business is not thriving right now, Anderson believes that it just needs time to realize and develop all of its capabilities.
"The mobile IM industry is not booming yet, but there is certainly a lot of room for growth," Anderson said.