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Article by Mohan Babu


Instant Messaging: The future of communication?

Instant messaging has become a part of today’s workplace culture. MOHAN BABU writes that IT managers are aware that if not properly controlled, it can lead to a decrease in productivity and also inadvertent exposure of sensitive business information.

A few days ago, I was in my office, trying to explain a complex problem I had been working on to a colleague when an MSN message popup announced, “Hi Mohan, it’s dad here.” Surprised and amused, my American colleague exclaimed that he didn’t even keep in touch with his dad who lived a hundred miles away in Denver on a day-to-day basis; and here I was receiving an instant message (IM) from my dad ten thousand miles away. This was not an unusual event by any means, but illustrates the kind of point-to-point personal communication facilitated by Internet technologies that have become ingrained in our daily lives.

We have come a long way since the early use of e-mails and Internet. Most workplaces, especially those in the high-tech world, are connected to the Internet and use of instant messaging systems is growing by leaps and bounds. IM is changing corporate communications, even without the encouragement or even approval of executives and IT managers. Combining the real-time advantages of a phone call with the convenience of an e-mail, IM is so compelling it often gets implemented through the back door, with distributed workgroups downloading public IM clients and using them without getting the nod from IT.

Realising the advantages of instant communication, businesses are encouraging the use of IM tools to speed-up and ease communication. However, corporations generally discourage the use of “open” systems like MSN or AOL IM, preferring instead to install internal products like IBM’s Lotus Sametime or Presence Platform (from Bantu). Even Microsoft, realising the importance of IM as a business tool has integrated its MSN messenger with proprietary NetMeeting collaboration software. Interestingly, IBM makes an encrypted version of Sametime used by the academia and military. US Navy uses the encrypted version of Sametime to help sailors communicate at sea.

Even though I consider myself as being pretty technically savvy, I was not quick to jump the IM bandwagon. When my company first rolled out its proprietary instant messaging systems a few years ago, I was reluctant to adopt it, fearing disturbance from colleagues if messages popped-up at inopportune times. Of course, a few months of stalling and realising that I was missing the party, convinced me to jump ship and I became a convert. Actually, after this, the pendulum swung to the other extreme when I not only installed UMIM but also Yahoo, MSN and AOL IM. I haven’t looked back since then.

Different companies have varying policies on sharing lists of people who are willing to be IMed. For instance, at IBM, some 220,000 employees worldwide are registered for instant messaging. Users can search in-house experts on a whole range of topics and requisition their expertise at any time. Even though IM is a compelling business tool, IT managers realise that many employees will be tempted to use it as a means of chatting

with family and friends. If not properly controlled, IM can lead not only to a decrease in productivity but also to the inadvertent exposure of sensitive business information. Many companies have started documenting detailed corporate system use policies including sections on IM and e-mail use (and abuse). As IM technology develops, real-time chat capabilities will be combined with clear voice and video communications. When this technology is available, companies will be able to set up video conference calls without all the costs and equipment required today.

The main difference between e-mail and instant messaging systems is that IM technologies are close-ended. The disadvantage with the use of open IM technologies provided by MSN, Yahoo and AOL is that they do not talk to each other. For instance, a user of MSN Messenger software needs to install the package on his/her machine, signup for a login ID and use it to communicate with other users. He cannot use his MSN account to communicate with a friend who has an AOL or Yahoo account. He will need to do the same if his friends use AOL or Yahoo. 

Most of us think of IM systems as transient carriers of messages without realising that every message sent can (and generally is) stored on Internet servers of either the ISP or the corporations that provide the service. These messages can be tracked and even used in evidence. Financial companies and brokerage firms use systems that archive IMs for regulatory purposes. 

As the global village gets more integrated, individuals in a networked world are going to expect instant communication and receive it. Instant messaging technologies that are practically free and provide instantaneous communication are poised to provide connectivity in a networked world.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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