Most IM installations are ad-hoc in nature, being driven not by company strategy, but by user demand. This is a very risky situation, as companies face increasing security threats all around and the need to set and enforce policies that will provide a level of protection against data breaches, and compliance regulatory malfeasance. Further, a widening array of clients, particularly mobile IM clients, will cause increasing stress on an IT infrastructure that is already over burdened.
IM was developed as a way for back channel communications of short messages to various users on a network, either locally or dispersed worldwide over the Internet. Short Message Service, an IM capability specific to the wireless phone industry, has, in the past few years, mushroomed into a mass market phenomenon, with billions of messages being sent from phone user to phone user through carriers worldwide. Presence is a key component of IM culture, allowing users to see who else is available to communicate with, and whether they are currently on-line, busy, away from their desks, typing a return message or to ask not to be disturbed.
Although most corporate systems are currently geared towards desktop and notebook PC platforms, increasingly available and cost effective smart-phone devices will make rapid inroads as corporate IM clients. Indeed, we expect that within 3-4 years, 65 percent to 75 percent of enterprise smart-phone devices will be able to access the same IM systems as desktops, and users will have equivalent features in messaging, presence, and collaboration while on their smart-phone devices as they would have while sitting at their PC.
Further, we expect that within 3-4 years, the number of enterprise mobile IM clients will equal or exceed the number of fixed IM clients in use. Therefore, companies must determine not only an enterprise strategy for their desktop IM users, but concurrently for the growing number of mobile users who will also require IM functionality.
Mobile IM systems must incorporate a number of features that provides the capabilities to manage, secure and integrate the IM flow, as well as protect users and their devices. Below are some of the key decisions companies should evaluate when deploying a mobile IM system.
Native or “industrial strength” clients
The majority of IM clients that are currently available on smart-phone devices provide little or no integration capabilities with corporate systems. Companies should look to deploying integrated IM systems that provide a secure and managed client on the device, and a behind the firewall server that includes the needed management functions, policy setting and enforcement capabilities, and data logging and security abilities necessary to protect company data and to meet any necessary regulations.
How to Incorporate Mobile IM IntoYour Company
Multi-systems and multi-device support
Few companies can standardize on a single mobile device (for example, RIM BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Motorola Q, Nokia E-series) throughout the entire organization. An enterprise-class mobile IM client should support multiple device types, as it provides a single, manageable and secure deployment capability, as well as offer equivalent capability to all user types within a common user interface, while also increasing the level of support available to users.
Encrypted and managed data stream
IM systems in the public domain do not generally offer an encrypted data stream between clients. Enterprise-class systems provide a fully encrypted data stream. It is critical that, just as in desktop IM, companies deploy a mobile IM client that provides for complete data protection.
Mobile IM gateway
Mobile users will likely need to access a variety of IM capabilities from both internal corporate systems and public systems. It therefore must be a function of any enterprise strategy to link mobile clients to an enterprise capable system behind the firewall for security and control, but also provide a safe connection to publicly available IM systems (for example, AOL, MSN and Yahoo) if allowed by the enterprise security policy.
Jack Gold is president and founder of J. Gold Associates. He has over 35 years in the computer and electronics industries, and he is a leading authority on mobile, wireless, computing infrastructure and enterprise application strategies. He is a highly regarded expert on computer hardware, software and architecture. He can be reached at email@example.com.