IM: Not Just for Consumers Anymore

While IM may allow organizations to save money on long distance calls and to increase collaboration among employees, the technology's true power lies in its ability to convey presence.

As Im writing this column from the Gartner Symposium ITXPO Conference in San Diego, Im conversing with a colleague in our San Francisco offices who is infamous among public relations managers for never answering his telephone.

The reason hes speaking to me, however, isnt because he picks up the phone when I call. He never does. Its because I started the conversation using Yahoos Instant Messenger program after seeing he was online. Not only did IM turn out to be more efficient in this case, but its also saving my company on long-distance telephone calls and tolls.

Last week, eWeek Labs presented an eSeminar on Instant Messaging. Though some seminar participants had serious security and management concerns regarding the technology, a large number wanted to know why IM was important or even relevant to the enterprise in the first place.

While IM may allow organizations to save money on long distance calls and to increase collaboration among employees, the technologys true power lies in its ability to convey presence. Had I called my colleague, theres no question I would have gotten his voice mail. Rather than leaving a message in what amounts to a black hole of voice mails, I checked for his availability using Yahoo IM. The platform enabled me to see if he was online, at his computer, and willing to talk. If he wasnt available to speak with me, he would have made his identity either invisible, or noted in an "away message" that he was busy.

Here at the Gartner Symposium this week, analysts from research firm Gartner Inc. said such capabilities would eventually change the entire process by which employees communicate with one another today. For example, if you were able to determine that a colleague is unavailable to speak with you, you would wait until he was free before picking up a telephone to call him.

In a presentation on the future of software infrastructure, Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer said a combination of Web services, XML, identity management, instant messaging and presence, could completely change the way enterprises collaborate by 2005. An example would be 10 people collaborating on a presentation made up of 10 slides without ever having to meet in person. After a combination of tools is used to collaborate on the presentation, the slides would be compiled using a document management program.

"We are moving from a world where people are forced to behave the way computers behave, to a world where computers adjust to the way we behave," Plummer said. "We are talking about the real-time enterprise here."

A number of vendors including IBM, AOL, and Yahoo, have real-time enterprise-class messaging platforms that enable presence and instant messaging. Executives at Sun Microsystems stress the presence capabilities in the SunONE Communications platform as a key benefit. And Microsoft, which will unveil its next-generation collaboration platform code-named Greenwich later this year, has already shown some XML-based collaboration capabilities in betas of Office 11.

Whether youre ready to support instant messaging within your enterprise or not, the technology is no longer just for consumers. And for those of you worried about being inundated by messages, theres always this low-tech solution: the off button.

Will instant messaging ever become a killer app at your organization? Dont IM me. e-mail me at instead.