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South Africa doesn`t get instant messaging Enterprise IM is here. Some companies still see it as just chat, but in time, it will be unstoppable, relegating e-mail to a far more formal role TO MANY COMPANIES, instant messaging conjures up associations with Yahoo, MSN, chat freaks and poor .

As a result, it is written off by many as a consumer cult, even as it gains ground as a serious business communication platform. Other issues with IM include `spim` (the IM version of spam) and interoperability between competing messaging standards from large consumer portals.

But enterprise IM (EIM) is a totally different kettle of fish when compared to its consumer cousins. And it is suddenly a very serious contender. Commenting on tremendous growth in IM uptake in the last year, research firm puts the daily number of EIM messages at one billion. , IDC programme director, predicts that EIM`s "value, necessity, and use will continue to grow at least through 2009".

According to Radicati, 80% of businesses will use IM by 2008. Foster and Sullivan predicts that enterprise Web conferencing, functionally linked to IM by enterprise vendors, will grow 175% by 2008.

Part of the uptake is due to hype, of course. Spurring opportunistic product releases, it has caused the global EIM market to spike 37% last year over 2003. Comprising servers, security, compliance and management products, the market could grow from $315 million in 2005 to $736 million in 2009.

But before business started buying into IM, where did the ruckus come from? The Motley Fool, an investor site (www.fool.com), notes that, as with PDAs, IM started as a consumer fad. Its delight lies in keeping in touch with friends in real time, and seeing who is available for a chat (`presence awareness`). Naturally, IM users didn`t see why they had to live without presence ever again, and soon, early adopter companies saw the light too.

IDC notes that "many corporate users use consumer IM (CIM) in the workplace". - Which is where the hype turns to good sense: if consumers are sometimes better than enterprises at spotting a good thing, enterprises are good at changing it to a safe improvement on the way they run processes.

Unlike CIM, EIM strives to be secure, and operates best in a managed business context, whether extended outside the network or at least as a self-contained `workplace` in a large company (to justify the infrastructure). It functions most cost-optimally when integrated with other collaborative platforms (Web, e-mail, intranets, extranets etc.).

The markets that have warmed to (enterprise-grade, more expensive) EIM, according to IDC, are chiefly compliance-driven sectors like stockbrokers, financial services and government. Here, EIM is a critical differentiator, and businesses had to catch up with "agile" communicative users.

EIM vendors

Among the top vendors, `s Office Communicator integrates EIM into desktop apps and "brings enterprise telephony into the real-time communications mix," says Heather Third, Microsoft SA business group lead, information worker.

Third says in much the same way that e-mail has changed today`s business landscape, IM is becoming just as ubiquitous. "Businesses are enquiring about ways to extend EIM beyond network borders to connect with customers, partners, family and friends more securely [than CIM]."

Third estimates up to 20% use in SA enterprises in some form or another.

Third explains the demand. "Customers are concerned about the risks of using IM in an unmanaged, unsecured environment. They also want to combine IM and voice, including enterprise telephony, with other productivity and comms applications, and need to manage different modes of real-time communications in an integrated, enterprise-grade experience."

As an underlying presence indicator, IM offers cost savings. In the South American countries that operates in, bandwidth is at a premium (as it is here), so corporate policy often specifies that employees first check for presence before communicating in whatever way they choose. The savings on missed phone calls and travel alone justify the cost.

But SA corporates aren`t biting yet. "There`s the impression that it`s free," Mark Mallabone, IBM SA Software Group team lead (IT Architects) says. "And as part of the business infrastructure, they have to justify the cost, and frankly, they don`t see why they should pay for `chat`."

Strangely, government hasn`t taken to IBM`s EIM, which could mean it doesn`t know about its cost-saving possibilities, or it runs other vendors` technology.

Wound up

The Motley Fool is so wound up about IM that it predicts the demise of e-mail. But e-mail still has a part to play.

One good illustration of the coexistence between the two is in their use within IBM, which dines on its own dog food with its BluePages implementation of Sametime one brand in its IM offering.

Mallabone says BluePages, at heart a global directory-based `expertise locator`, uses Sametime`s presence awareness, so that experts` details include not just skills, geography, telephone number and e-mail, but also availability for a `chat`, with some serious collaborative technologies to boot. Bluepages gets 65 million hits a day.

Integrated into a Java Enterprise Server as part of WebSphere, IBM`s Workplace version of IM is not sold standalone. Instead it`s integrated with document management, e-mail, collaborative learning and `team spaces`, also extending calendaring to online meetings with presentations. Voice and video conferencing are options with IBM`s mainline Sametime offering which also supports VOIP and PBX integration.


Mallabone says Sametime`s infrastructure has 300 000 registered users, 85% of whom are active daily, and supports 10 700 Web conferences a day. And this from what started as an underground, unauthorised project in 1999.

IBM has been at IM so quietly for such a long time that it doesn`t know what the fuss is about.

Then, of course, there are external customers, into whose IM servers IBM links to support the services enabled by IM, or who are allowed into IBM`s expertise locator - the hooks provided via SIP or SIMPLE (SIP for IM and Presence Leveraging Extensions).

Third says Communicator is also based on these protocols. Microsoft has made several extensions, "many of which are being proposed to the standards bodies. We are committed to remaining SIP-compliant and will closely monitor any changes in SIMPLE".

Mallabone admits EIM comes with limitations, and that "you would need a pretty large internal implementation to justify it as, for instance, part of a presence-aware directory".

The alternative is to use CIM, but these are not guaranteed to be secure, `spim-free`, interoperable, as rich as EIM, or able to guarantee quality of service.

IBM and Microsoft`s server-based approach does provide QOS, security and integration, which makes it a solution that fits into the budgets of larger organisations.

Third adds that IM is in use with or without corporate approval. "The biggest risk of IM as we see it is where it is not in a managed environment. Other challenges are that it is often difficult for customers to justify the business case around real-time collaboration.

As regards interoperability, Mallabone says when IBM started its IM foray at the end of the last century, two acquisitions shaped its roadmaps and indeed, the entire global IM landscape of today. Databeam`s technology provided the base chat protocol for Microsoft`s Netmeeting, and was also licensed to AOL.

Sametime`s future is in closer integration with voice and policy-based permissions, managed clients and other functionalities.


So will IM kill e-mail completely? Not really. Where attachments come into play, copying is needed or non-presence-dependent store and forwarding technology is called for, e-mail is the better, more formal communication method, Mallabone says.

"There is still a great space for e-mail and tools like Outlook, but they need to evolve alongside IM, integrate with instant presence and become one experience for the user," says Mallabone.

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