Companies still love and loathe IM

Survey finds that the vast majority of companies still ban instant messaging within their organizations, even though they can see the benefits surrounding its use

Companies can see the benefits surrounding the use of IM, but the vast majority still ban its use within their organization, so says a new survey.

Research released by instant messaging firm ProcessOne shows that 72 percent of U.K. businesses have banned the use of public IM software, such as MSN, AIM, and Yahoo, because of security worries.

Yet the Vanson Bourne survey of 100 senior IT decision-makers from enterprises of 1,000 or more employees, also discovered that 74 percent of respondents think IM could provide valuable collaboration benefits to their organization.

IDC recently announced that IM was set to overtake e-mail as the preferred form of business communication by the second half of 2010.

Yet despite IM being viewed as an effective tool for non-intrusive, real-time communication regardless of location or surrounding, it seems that at the moment, security concerns are at the foremost of organizations minds.

Concern centers on allowing the use of public IM applications within an organization; 88 percent of IT directors said they were worried by this. In fact, more than half (56 percent) said that their organization was worried about losing sensitive business information through IM conversations. Despite this, only 12 percent of those surveyed said they keep an audit trail of IM messages sent by employees using free public IM software.

"Businesses have a fear of IM because they see that normal IM applications are not designed to be used in a corporate world," said Mickaël Rémond, CEO of ProcessOn. He feels that many organizations are torn between wanting to maximize security or gain collaboration and productivity benefits, and he thinks that maintaining security is winning at this point.

"With public IM systems like MSN, you are accepting that you don't control who you are talking to," said Rémond. "When you control an corporate IM package however, you can define what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for your organization."

"People also only want to receive messages from people they know," he added. "You cannot build that on public IM applications as that is in the wild."

When questioned further about their organization's reaction to the need to keep audit trails of IM conversations in order to comply with regulations, over one-third (38 percent) of IT directors said that their business had banned the use of public IM outright; 21 percent said that their company is using a private IM system, instead of public IM, so that audit trails can be kept.

But some businesses took more extreme steps, with 15 percent not allowing any type of instant messaging because they thought it was too difficult to keep reliable IM conversation audit trails. Eight percent admitted they didn't keep IM message audit trails at all because they think the process is too complicated. Ten percent did not know that audit trails needed to be kept.

The research also found that about half of IT directors thought that staff would be reluctant to use a corporate IM tool instead of using the public IM software that they were used to, leaving them with little choice but to ban IM completely if they were concerned about security.

For businesses that are considering an IM solution however, Rémond has the following advice.

"The most difficult part is to address the workflow of the worker," he said. "If you provide yet another tool for your workforce there can be trouble. The most important part, is the deployment of the application. Next, you have to define your policy, and you may need a tool to switch people from public IM to corporate IM."

"Research shows that people are aware of the benefits that IM can provide," said Rémond. "It is not difficult to persuade them. We demonstrate to potential clients and show them is possible to have productive clients using IM, where users not being constantly interrupted by pop-up windows."

"With a corporate IM solution, you can specify you will only be interrupted by specific people," he said. "Other messages are deferred. There are other ways to increase worker productive with IM. You know when you can talk to people, so in many senses, it is more productive than a phone call."

"We are seeing the start of corporate uptake," said Rémond. "But we are still in the testing and experimenting stage for most companies."

According to Rémond, pricing for a typical corporate IM solution starts from a few thousand pounds, depending on size.

Techworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.

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