by Art Jahnke

Are You Ready for Instant Messaging?

Mar 15, 20036 mins
Enterprise Applications

Anyone with school-age children has no doubt about the preferred means of communication for Americans under the age of 18. Instant messaging (IM) applications are the perfect medium for teen chitchat, gossip and banter. But what most parents don’t know is that they may soon have their own buddy lists, courtesy of their employers.

IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher) predicts that worldwide business-based instant messaging will balloon from 20 million users last year to 300 million by 2005. And technology analysts from Gartner think that by next year, 70 percent of enterprise employees will be using IM.

Corporate America is getting the message: IM isn’t just child’s play; the technology’s lightning-fast back-and-forth among groups of people can help managers stay on top of projects and can facilitate valuable bonding of corporate teams. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, IM helped Lehman Brothers associates communicate with each other after the 9/11 attacks, when telephone networks had been knocked out.

Many employees already use an Internet-based version of IM, such as AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger, without their CIOs’ permission. The reasons and internal pressures are mounting for the CIO to implement a formal IM strategy and employ one of the growing number of corporate IM vendors.

There are downsides, of course. How safe is it really to zing important company info back and forth across networks? Is this just a new avenue into your enterprise for hackers and viruses? In this time of emphasis on productivity, the last thing that any business needs is a swell new way to waste time. And if anyone wonders if IM is a swell time-waster, just ask the parent of any student to name the main reason why, recently, homework has been taking so long to complete. (For more on the topic of instant messaging, read “Sending a Message” at

We asked our readers if their enterprise is ready for IM. Here are some of the responses.

I.M. HAS WIGGLED ITS WAY TO BECOMING A CRITICAL communication tool for a small percentage of employees at my organization. Although it might seem more beneficial to use among the numerous sites of my company, which are scattered across the country, it has more commonly been implemented to stay in touch with the customer five miles down the road. The introduction of IM wasn’t a formal IT initiative but a casual customer request that was fulfilled (quietly) by our frontline employees.

Once it was discovered, it didn’t take me long to see the value. Prohibiting the use of instant messaging (either suggestively or by force) would break communication lines with our customers. And if we aren’t willing to communicate with our customers using this tool, they just may find another contractor that will.

Bob Tracy


Information Spectrum

I DEFINITELY WILL NOT BE IMPLEMENTING I.M. anytime soon, if ever, in my organization. IM is a huge drain on employee productivity, which has been found with e-mail as well. IM also makes it far too easy for sensitive information to be released to the wrong people without prior thought to the consequences of that release. People have “loose lips” with e-mail, and even looser ones with instant messaging?a privacy and security risk I cannot afford in the health-care industry, thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Kenneth Kubiak

Information Security Officer

Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center

THE UTILIZATION OF INSTANT MESSAGING PROGRAMS is a matter of professional discipline. Like all forms of communication it can be a time waster or a highly effective tool in getting work done. One could argue that any form of communication can be abused, and the nonprofessional-minded person often does it. The issue now is that staff can appear to be working, since they are at their station, but in reality are passing time switching between windows. As a leader and a manager, I believe it is my responsibility to effectively delegate tasks to my staff, have an understanding of the scope of those tasks and measure my staff on their ability to deliver. I assign tasks and due dates, and expect my staff to deliver based upon schedule commitments.

As far as security, like all forms of traditional and electronic communication, it is really a permissive model (discounting true software security issues and defects). E-mails, phone calls, copy machines and hard copy all present a very easy opportunity for someone who wishes to violate a corporate (or national) security model. The effectiveness of security does not lay in the technology but in the people who adhere to or violate policy.

Michael Clancey

IT Manager

MY TEAM OPERATES OUT OF TWO LOCATIONS AND USES AOL Instant Messenger to request things of one another. In fact, I use Messenger to gain access to key members of my team myself. I find the ability to stage a question that they can answer when they have a moment is far less disruptive than calling them directly. Since Messenger requires less energy than e-mail, I find it saves me time.

On the bad side, we don’t currently block the use of Messenger for external communication, so people can be distracted by nonwork-related discussions, similar to hanging on the phone.

We will likely strive to block external use of Messenger, at least for core hours, some time in the future.

Rod Hamilton



WE HAVE ALLOWED AOL INSTANT MESSENGER for selected customer support functions with a critical customer. However, we are installing Sametime (we’re a Notes shop) to secure the connection and will block AOL at our firewall.

Wayne Chew

IS Director


ALTHOUGH I.M. IS HERE TO STAY, I can’t tell you how many companies I run into that have no clue what’s happening in the network because of IM. Employees aren’t trained in security practices, and until they are trained, using IM is like playing with fire. The problem is that getting rid of IM is not an option anymore, as people are using it for business reasons, and IT’s hands are tied. I have been recommending installing a gateway to manage AOL, MSN and Yahoo. There are a couple out there, for example Akonix, IMAge, IMlogic and FaceTime. Akonix seems to be focused on security more than the others.

Randall Black

Chief Scientist

The Black List, Security