The last time David Baildon checked his enterprise IM options, he found he only had one.
"Just a couple of years ago, our only choice was Lotus Sametime," Baildon said.
The group manager of knowledge management at Miami-based Ryder Systems Inc. chose Lotus Sametime to avoid the security risks he associates with consumer freeware like AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, which run on public networks.
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Ryder, a familiar name in trucking, as well as a supply chain management and distribution firm for industrial giants like Northrop Grumman Corp., relies on Sametime to help employees respond more quickly to internal requests without leaking proprietary customer information outside the firewall.
"Many of our clients are warehousing and distributing large inventories, which are highly valuable and sometimes hazardous," Baildon said. "Only Sametime can ensure the security of these conversations."
But now other vendors say they can do the same. Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo are all trumpeting their own enterprise IM products, claiming that they will address administrators' security concerns.
In fact, experts like Michael Osterman, president of Black Diamond, Wash.-based Osterman Research Inc., predict "a flood of enterprise-grade IM products coming into the market." Yet Osterman also envisions an eventual enterprise IM shakeout "that will leave Microsoft and Lotus with the largest share."
The new corporate IM players
AOL's new AIM Enterprise Gateway may be just the thing admins need to reel in their outlaw AIM users, which make up the majority of "unofficial" enterprise IM clients. AIM Enterprise Gateway automatically reroutes AIM communications locally, keeping conversations within the firewall and off the public AIM network.
And lovebirds canoodling via AIM had better watch out. Just like with Sametime and the upcoming Microsoft offering, admins can use AIM Enterprise Gateway to monitor AIM usage and to log and audit chat sessions. Yahoo's Messenger Enterprise Edition is another gateway that provides logging and auditing features, but only through third-party tools from FaceTime Communications Inc. and IMLogic Inc.
While these administrative and security features are nothing new to users of Sametime, the Lotus tool works hand-in-glove with existing Domino applications and directories.
"Sametime helps us to capitalize on our existing Domino assets by allowing us to bring Domino-based rules and permissions into the [Sametime IM Gateway]," Ryder's Baildon said.
Sixty-one percent of organizations with standardized IM messaging use Lotus Sametime, according to Osterman. Still, fewer than one-third of companies with IM use a single client. And end users may see Sametime and the other enterprise IM tools as real party poopers because they take permissions out of the hands of users and make MP3 downloads and anonymous chats virtually impossible.
Making its 'presence' felt
But while Sametime lacks AIM's emoticons (and advertising), it can make meetings more productive and scheduling them less painful, said Jeremy Dies, brand manager for Lotus Sametime.
"The real revolution for enterprise IM is in presence awareness, the ability to see someone online and to know where they are," Dies said.
Sametime not only tells users whether their buddies are online, but whether they're connected via mobile phone or wireless PDA through Lotus' Sametime Everyplace. Sametime also supports Web conferencing, with streaming media, document and application sharing, and whiteboarding, which allows remote users to mark up documents simultaneously with in-house users.
Microsoft's forthcoming enterprise IM product, currently code-named Greenwich, shares much of Sametime's focus on presence. Microsoft promises that Greenwich will tell users more about what their buddies are up to than its current enterprise and consumer IM software.
But Greenwich is still in beta, while Sametime -- which has been on the market since 1999 -- is in its third release. Microsoft has said Greenwich will be out in the second or third quarter next year.
Users say that Sametime, at least for the moment, is far more mature and feature-rich than anything Microsoft offers in its current enterprise platform, Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server.
Ryan McCain, knowledge architect at Chelmsford, Mass.-based Mercury Computer Systems Inc., likes Sametime's online "meeting center" feature, which you can use to schedule, browse and replay meetings. Microsoft doesn't offer this kind of centralized collaboration, he said.
Regardless of whether they select a single IM platform, admins can look forward to dealing with heterogeneity beyond the firewall. That should come as welcome news to end users who will want to chat with customers using every kind of IM software.
Fortunately, Lotus and Microsoft are working toward an industry IM standard to enable messaging, access control and authentication between different IM clients. The standard, called the Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), also specifies rules for encryption between IM clients.
SIMPLE comes as good news to Baildon, who wants to promote IM conversation with Ryder's clients and its own users of wireless phones and PDAs.
"A standard will make the differences between these [IM products] a lot less important and make the software a lot more valuable to users," he said.