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Instant messaging usage increase highlights need for policies

Instant messaging is a valuable business tool for some enterprises. For others, it's a security risk. Either way, a recent Burton Group report suggests that all companies should have an IM usage policy, even if they haven't deployed IM yet.

Instant messaging (IM) -- whether companies view it as a worker productivity booster or a security threat -- is a popular communication application that many workers use, with or without permission, on corporate networks.

In a recent report from Burton Group, "Instant Messaging: It's Not Just Idle Chatter," current trends of IM communications in the enterprise are highlighted -- including the necessity of creating policies to govern the use of IM within a company.

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In addition, according to Burton Group analyst Diana Kelley, enterprises that do not intend to implement instant messaging should still create a policy that outlines the reasons for disallowing the use of IM on the corporate network.

Equally important in creating policies regarding IM, companies need to prepare the logistics of enforcing these policies -- whether that means utilizing network analytics tools, archiving, or using IT staff to patrol the network for violations.

"It is important to understand what an enterprise wants their specific approach to instant messaging to be and to create a policy that they will employ with IM use -- even if an enterprise chooses not to utilize IM in the workplace," Kelley said.

Financial institutions -- early adopters in the field of IM communications -- continue to lead the charge in employing best practices of IM use in the workplace, including enforcement of strong usage policies.

Many other early adopters of the technology indicate that presence is a major driver in implementation and continued use of IM. For help desk facilities, CRM centers and many hospitals, IM and presence allow staff to efficiently locate the correct and available person for situations that require an immediate response.

Because IM can return an immediate response and illustrate a person's availability, many companies are convinced that it is a business tool that can and does improve worker productivity. In vertical fields such as hospitals, IM allows staff to immediately find an available doctor or nurse whose specialization is suited for a specific emergency rather than wasting valuable time waiting for returned calls or emails to determine whether a doctor is available.

Yet deciding whether to use a public or private IM service is an issue that continues to delay deployment in some cases. Issues of security, archiving and management control must be considered when making the choice between enterprise instant messaging (EIM), such as IBM's Sametime, and public IM services, such as AOL Instant Messaging and MSN Messenger.

The Burton Group report indicates that security issues are complicated and require enterprises to give consideration to how much control is necessary for the security of their business.

"When using a public instant messaging service," Kelley said, "use of security gateways and reflection of conversations between internal users can help to diminish the amount of internal conversations making it onto the external network and into a public IM's server archives, though these measures are not 100% certain."

Instant messaging in the corporate environment will continue to expand as the incoming workforce settles in. Many new employees are dependent on the use of IM to finish projects. Also, these workers are often more comfortable using IM instead of email to stay in contact with project members and fellow workers. Many enterprises will have to rethink the use of IM in the workplace as these workers begin to make their mark on the business or industry.

Kelley reiterated that enterprises need to be mindful that IM is now in the enterprise and is an important part of the way many employees work -- and that people are using it for more than just making lunch plans.

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