Study predicts enterprise IM boom

Jon Panker

Ping! Get used to that sound because, according to new research, it's going to be reverberating off workplace walls more and more in years to come.

A report from Palo Alto, Calif.-based messaging research firm Radicati Group projects that the number of corporate instant messaging accounts will increase from 60 million this year to 349 million by 2007. The study also found that only about one quarter of all companies have standardized on a common corporate instant messaging platform, though seven in 10 are using some form of IM.

The majority of businesses are using free, public accounts, according to Genelle Hung, a Radicati Group analyst who interviewed 50 organizations of various size and representing a variety of industries for the report.

The research shows plenty of opportunity for the growing list of vendors crafting IM tools specifically for business users. Features like encryption, logging and archiving differentiate corporate versions of IM software from popular consumer offerings, such as AOL Instant Messenger. A host of third-party providers are also generating add-on tools with enhanced enterprise IM capabilities.

While Lotus first staked out the enterprise instant messaging turf more than three years ago with the release of Sametime, now called Lotus Instant Messaging, competitors have elbowed their way into the market. Consumer instant messaging providers like AOL and Yahoo now have corporate-specific enterprise IM offerings. Meantime, Microsoft Corp. is readying Microsoft Office Real-Time Communications Server 2003, which is due out in the third quarter.

The report found that Lotus' IM tool leads in mind share "mainly because it's been out there longer than some of the other enterprise products," said Radicati Group CEO Sara Radicati.

Companies are willing to spend an average of $11.95 per employee per year for corporate instant messaging, according to the study. The main drivers for adoption include more efficient workplace communication and online presence awareness, as well as reduced e-mail storage and telephone costs.

"IM is not just about your buddy list," said Larry Schlang, CEO of Bantu Inc., an enterprise IM technology firm in Washington, D.C. "It's going to be spread across a bunch of different applications."

Schlang said new technology is going to enable easy corporate IM integration with other messaging applications, like e-mail, calendars and address books. Companies will also look to tie in instant messaging with customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning applications to better service clients, he said.

Patrick Dorsey, group manager for Sun ONE communications and collaboration software at Sun Microsystems Inc., predicts "a greater need for identity management software" in the enterprise instant messaging arena. He said that, as users are inundated with instant messages, they will need greater granularity in setting personal profiles to keep out unwanted ones.

Industry experts agree that business instant messaging won't succeed unless tools from the various vendors can communicate with one another. Ed Simnett, lead product manager for Microsoft's Real-Time Communications Server, called the SIP/SIMPLE standard the best bet for interoperability and applauded Lotus for supporting it.

"We see that as the right move here," he said.


Featured Topic: Lotus Workplace Messaging (formerly Sametime)

Lotus, third-party vendors see bright future for Sametime

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