America Online Inc. this month will begin beta testing an encrypted version of its AOL Instant Messenger targeted at enterprises.
The service, to be called Enterprise AIM, will be sold to corporations, said company spokesman Marty Gordon, in Mountain View, Calif., who declined to say when the encrypted service will be available. VeriSign Inc. will provide the encryption technology, which AOL, of Dulles, Va., will deliver to corporations through its network. Gordon confirmed that 20 percent to 25 percent of the 150 million AIM users today are corporate users.
But corporate users of instant messaging will likely require more than encryption to deliver a true enterprise-class IM service, IT managers said.
"The real issue, for us, isnt specifically encrypting the communication, though that is an option we absolutely need for some communications," said David Moskowitz, CIO/chief technology officer of Productivity Solutions Inc., in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
Moskowitz said he wants to see additional auditing and logging of messages; additional presence detection capability; automatic, customizable responses to messages or queries; customizable alerts for certain events; even a user-definable interface for a two-way mobile device.
Moskowitz has evaluated AIM, Microsoft Corp.s Windows Messenger and Yahoo Inc.s Yahoo Messenger but found all lacking in security or stability or both, making them unsuitable for business use in his organization. Still, he described AOLs move as a "potential step in the right direction."
Michael Sampson, an analyst with Ferris Research Inc., in Christchurch, New Zealand, said AIM still has too many limitations to be used as a corporate IM application, pointing out that AIM has a "rash of security issues" that go beyond encryption.
"We see the market playing out with [corporations] deploying corporate IM systems from corporate-focused vendors and providing interoperability with AIM via an in-house gateway," said Sampson.
Bryan Searcy, MIS director at Pacific International Marketing Inc., an organic produce company in Salinas, Calif., that uses WiredRed Software Corp.s e/pop for IM, said that screen name management is an issue AOL would need to resolve since users in a corporation would have to be assigned names not in use by AOLs millions of other users.
"If they could somehow figure this out—and Im sure they will—they definitely will become a major player in the IM market," Searcy said.
Gordon said AOL plans to add other technologies, such as logging and archiving, to help corporations manage AIM better. AOL will face competition in the corporate space. Novell Inc. plans to unveil its own corporate IM product before the end of this year, officials of the Provo, Utah, company said last week.
Code-named Quasar, the software is in development and will be built on Novells eDirectory, which officials said will make it a secure, manageable solution, easily integrated with existing corporate directories.