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Why Businesses Aren't Yet Convinced IM Is For Them

Instant messaging is so rooted in consumer Web technology, it's become a platform for offering other services. Yet many businesses remain wary of it, even for information workers. It's a symbol of how far apart consumer and business tech users can be.

Microsoft and Yahoo last week made major upgrades to their instant messaging platforms. A beta version of Yahoo's real-time communications suite includes plug-ins that link to consumer sites such as, eBay, and Yahoo Calendar, and Yahoo has opened up its APIs for the first time, hoping many more developers will build plug-ins for its IM application. Microsoft's latest Windows Live Messenger lets users make voice calls through a prepaid service from Verizon. It also allows videoconferencing and includes a feature for sharing folders, letting users drag and drop files and photos into the application from their desktops. Handy--but also one more way for data to flow out of the company, the IT security pro will think.

IT managers struggle with the value versus risk of IM. Phil Go, CIO of construction company Barton Malow, offered IM in a Polycom WebOffice product, but employees found it too difficult to use. He's interested in offerings like Microsoft's if they can meet all his business needs: "Scalability, maintainability, and security." And he needs audit trails. That can be done with IM, but it often takes working with a third-party messaging vendor.

Many companies aren't sure they need it. George Chizmar, VP of IT at Apple Vacations, says IM wasn't on any business managers' requirements list when the company bought Lotus Notes. But it came with the package. "IM is being used more and more, so we are seeing the value of IM in a much different light these days," he says. Now, Lotus has a new version of IM, and the company will consider it.

At Indiana University, IM's official use started with a small group of employees, including its support center, using applications from AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. "But our minds are opening quickly, and we're looking at some of the new options out there," says Sue Workman, the university's director of user support, who cites faster IT support as a possible future use. "It's the next way to communicate more and faster, in business and in life," Workman says. "Our students and children found this out a couple of years ago, and now we're catching up."

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