Getting the Message: Enterprise IM Goes Mainstream

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Communication, it seems, is never quite fast enough. As time goes on—and technology allows—we seek (and find) faster ways to get our messages across. First came the telephone, then the fax, then email, and most recently instant messaging (IM). Once the province of teenagers, IM has percolated through the mainstream until, by natural extension, it has reached into the enterprise and become for many the communication method of choice. The Yankee Group estimates in a February 2003 report ("Vendors Race to Get a Piece of the Enterprise IM Market" by Paul Ritter) that there are more than 25 million business IM users in the United States, the majority of which have been using consumer instant message networks without IT knowledge.

This means that employees, often unbeknownst to IT departments, have been IMing away without safeguards, leaving companies vulnerable to system security breaches and legal liability. For a time, many companies were in denial about this phenomenon, but instant messaging players big and small understood what was happening and have been developing products to meet the growing needs of enterprise customers. While other technology markets may struggle or experience modest expansion, IM will not suffer the same fate. According to the February 2003 Yankee Group report, "The enterprise IM marketplace will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 150 percent for the next 3 years." With that kind of growth potential, it's easy to see why companies are lining up to get a bite of this business.

As companies adopt IM as a mainstream communications tool, however, they must build formal policies around naming conventions, security, archiving and other management issues. Beyond that, as IM matures, people are realizing that they can take advantage of IM's presence awareness—the ability to know when someone is actively online (by checking a buddy list, for example) to link to other enterprise applications such as CRM, thereby making IM more than just a communications medium, but also a productivity tool.

This article explores the growing enterprise instant messaging phenomenon, paying particular attention to the financial services industry, which was an early adopter of this technology, and where government regulations force these companies to use strong security and auditing capabilities.

Into the Breach
Although many companies are warming to the idea of IM now (many at the insistence of their own employees), initially most firms did not see much value in IM. According to David Gurle, Reuters' executive vice president of collaborations services, "Three years ago it was a denial phase and enterprises said ‘this is a teenager tool. I don't see why I should use it. I just don't see the value of it.' Then," he says, "the end-users started to pressure IT departments about using [IM]." Gurle (who was, until recently, director of program management, real-time communications at Microsoft where he was in charge of its Greenwich IM project), explains that the enterprise IT departments began looking for enterprise-level solutions. But at that time, they were not finding many tools to meet their needs.

While Gurle points out that some of the big players such as IBM and Microsoft were dabbling in this space to meet enterprise IM needs, he says, "Lately, those requirements have been captured and crystallized and [both big and small companies] have begun to fulfill those requirements in a pretty important way." He believes that as a result, there is huge market opportunity for Enterprise IM because, he says, "To the best of my knowledge every global Fortune 1000 company has plans to buy something in this space either this year or next year."

Paul Ritter, program manager for Internet business at Boston-based Yankee Group and author of Yankee's February 2003 report on the enterprise instant messaging market, explains that the market is going through a conversion right now from a free consumer tool to a more robust tool for the enterprise. Says Ritter, "IM is making the transition from users on public network IM clients, primarily from the three largest ones from AOL, MSN, and Yahoo!, toward true enterprise IM systems, some of which are from those same companies, and some of which are proprietary systems."

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