Say goodbye to your smileys and ciao to your frowns, because instant messaging is becoming a serious business.
Most IM users in the enterprise today are using unprotected, consumer versions of AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. But many Domino administrators will soon be standardizing on enterprise IM platforms, most notably IBM Lotus Sametime, and installing metrics tools to determine the value IM is bringing to their businesses.
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Meanwhile, many third-party vendors at Lotusphere 2003 announced that they are updating their IM-related products to better serve enterprise users.
Domino administrators are keen to plug the security holes created by consumer IM software. "We have strict standards for standardizing on software and security," said John Lewis, collaborative technologies pervasive computing team leader at Auburn Hills, Mich.-based DaimlerChrysler, which is a Domino customer. "We opted for Sametime 3 because of its tight integration with Domino and because of its security features."
Sametime 3 is the latest version of IBM Lotus' enterprise IM platform, which supports the HTTP, HTTPS, Socks4 and Socks5 proxies. Sametime server administrators can control Sametime usage through Domino or any other LDAP directory.
Lewis said that, this year, DaimlerChrysler will be adding thousands of Sametime users "in every area of our business."
But not every IT department will move quickly enough to head off their first IM "hack attack."
Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. predicted in a recent report that, by 2004, "an IM hacker will capture and publicize corporate information sent across the IM public network."
Worms and viruses may sneak in on IM attachments, "but organizations using consumer-based IM have even more to worry about," said Gartner research director Maurene Caplan Grey. "If you're in a regulated industry, or subject to FOIA requirements, you have to make sure your messages are being archived or saved somewhere. And Sametime will buy you that."
As many as 30 enterprise IM vendors are also promising to sell administrators similar peace of mind. But the most recognizable brand names, AOL's Enterprise AIM Services and Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition, are new to the enterprise market, and Microsoft's enterprise IM platform, Greenwich, may not be ready until late 2003.
Caplan Grey predicted a shakeout in the enterprise IM market that will eliminate all but the major software developers. She also warned that many vendors "do not capitalize on IM's most important business strength, which is presence awareness."
"Sametime, however, understands the importance of presence awareness," Caplan Grey said.
Sametime tells users both the availability of their contacts and whether they are using wireless phones or PDAs via Sametime Everyplace. It also shares presence awareness data with users of other IM software outside the firewall, through its support for the emerging SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE).
Whether or not administrators settle on Sametime, Caplan Grey suggested that IT staffers should start by getting a handle on how IM is being used in their organizations. "Call centers are a great place to develop some clear metrics," Caplan Grey said. "In fact, that's where we see the fastest growing business use for IM."
Foster City, Calif.-based FaceTime Communications Inc. and Wellesley, Mass.-based DYS Analytics Inc. were two companies at Lotusphere that are helping IT to control and analyze enterprise IM traffic.
DYS plans to release Collaboration Control for Sametime this spring, which will measure Sametime use and capacity across the network and provide administrators with IM and e-meeting statistics. FaceTime's IM Auditor Enterprise, meanwhile, routes, monitors and controls traffic among consumer and enterprise IM clients; the product also helps map buddy names to authenticated employee IDs on Domino and other servers.
These and other metrics tools can help corporate management identify "unethical, illegal or stupid usage," said Caplan Grey, "and help administrators set rules for certain groups and individuals."
But Domino administrators are not about to enact Total Information Awareness in the enterprise. DaimlerChrysler's John Lewis acknowledged that Sametime, running from a central location within his company, is easily audited, "but we're not reading everybody's instant messages," he said. "You have to trust your people."
Instead, Lewis said, he hopes that Sametime will facilitate collaboration at DaimlerChrysler without leaving the network vulnerable to attack. "Sametime makes setting up meetings a whole lot easier," he said.
Sametime also makes it easy to access Notes calendars, address books and other Domino resources through new, third-party bots and without opening additional applications. Tallahassee, Fla.-based Cobra Technologies Inc. sells a handful of bots, or interactive agents, that Sametime users can access through their buddy lists.
At Lotusphere, Cobra trotted out its Lookup Bot, which allows users to configure their own Cobra bots to retrieve information from any Notes database.
Such bots, metrics and support for the SIMPLE protocol may make Sametime robust, but it sure ain't pretty. The Sametime client lacks the cute emoticons and other goofy add-ons that make consumer products warm and fuzzy.
"But you don't need all that stuff, anyway," Lewis said. "This is a business tool."
Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.
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