Ultimately, instant messagings killer application within corporations may not involve communications among colleagues but on-the-fly text messages exchanged among end users and enterprise applications such as inventory control and CRM systems.
"The idea of having a field salesperson put an inventory system on their buddy list and then query that system using Instant Messenger is one area where we see the technology really providing value," said Michael Osterman, president of technology research company Osterman Research Inc., in Black Diamond, Wash. "The ability to determine on the fly how many [items], for example, are in stock is a real step toward the concept of the real-time enterprise."
Already, enterprise software vendors are releasing products that enable end users to query applications using IM and Short Message Service protocols.
Earlier this month, Sprint Communications Co. L.P., in Overland Park, Kan., announced Universal Application Messaging, which provides access to applications such as corporate directories and inventory status applications via IM to mobile workers using handheld devices.
In addition, Yahoo Inc.s Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition will integrate with portal software, enterprise platforms and corporate directory server products from enterprise application vendors such as Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. This integration will enable enterprises using Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition to provide employees with capabilities such as the instant look-up of customer or employee contact information plus the ability to transmit that contact using the device on which he or she is available.
Integration between IM and enterprise applications has already begun to take off in the CRM (customer relationship management) space. For example, using the IM function built into the LivePerson Service Edition CRM application from LivePerson Inc., in New York, to take help desk questions from employees, the field technology support division at Prudential Financial Inc., in Newark, N.J., has been able to dramatically reduce support costs, said Brian Murphy, a project manager at Prudential. The field technology support division at Prudential supports approximately 10,000 employees at Prudential offices nationwide.
The desk answers about 1,000 requests a day. While only about 35 help desk questions a day are received via IM, the cost of dealing with those requests is significantly lower. While the average help desk problem resolved over the phone costs about $16 per call, Murphy estimated an IM session costs $3.50.
IM has been such a success at Prudential Financial that Murphy has removed phone support for some common help desk questions, such as password resets and printer problems, and will provide help pertaining to those issues only if requests are initiated via IM first. Currently, eight of 56 help desk associates are available to answer computer problems via IM. To further lower costs, Murphy said he is considering enabling employees to query help desk databases directly using IM to answer questions on issues such as password resets and printing problems.
"We will never totally migrate over to IM, but from a cost savings standpoint, you cant beat it," Murphy said. "Were able to resolve over 95 percent of help desk tickets initiated using chat sessions."