Telecoms to Make IM Plays

Sprint, AT&T and WorldCom services to offer better security.

Corporate IS managers who have yet to deploy an enterprise instant messaging system will soon have new options to choose from, with three big telecommunications companies adding IM to their respective business services.

Services from Sprint Communications Co., AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. promise better IM security than traditional software developers provide in their IM platforms.

"I think the telecoms understand the security ramifications," said David Moskowitz, CIO and chief technology officer of Productivity Solutions Inc., which is shopping for a corporate IM platform. "However, without knowing something about their software development process, I wont take, or make, any bets about stability."

Sprints Enterprise IM service, which will be introduced this week, focuses on wireless IM, although the client can also be used on desktops. Officials at the Kansas City, Mo., company said the system offers presence detection—knowing when a user is online—and an alternative to in-person meetings.

The company is touting the services carrier-class security; interoperability with other clients; two-way alerting; ability to send corporate-branded messages; and support for wireless protocols, including Wireless Application Protocol, Short Message Service and Java 2 Micro Edition.

In conjunction with the IM release, Sprint will announce wireless access to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange platform, giving users on its Sprint PCS network access to their Exchange e-mail, calendars and workflow tools.

AT&T, of Basking Ridge, N.J., in May will announce a managed and hosted IM service for enterprises. Officials provided few details of the service, beyond touting its security, availability, reliability and scalability.

WorldCom plans to add IM and conferencing and presence detection services to its IP Communications services by next quarter, according to a spokeswoman at the Clinton, Miss., company. The services will use SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), allowing them to integrate with voice-over-IP telephony and conferencing.

Security is a key factor in selecting a corporate IM system, according to Bryan Searcy, MIS director at Pacific International Marketing Inc., an organic produce company, which uses Wired-Red Software Corp.s e/pop for IM.

"On a corporate level, users dont want to share their messages in a public forum," said Searcy, in Salinas, Calif.

Productivity Solutions Moskowitz has evaluated Microsofts Windows Messenger, Yahoo Inc.s Messenger, AOL Time Warner Inc.s AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ Inc.s IM service. For corporate uses, Searcy found them to be either not stable enough, not secure enough or both. But those tests showed him the benefits of IM in the enterprise.

"We want IM for the collaborative communications—as a productivity tool," said Moskowitz, in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. "We know the potential."