Instant Messaging (IM) is no longer just a tool for teenagers or college students to chat online with their friends. It has recently moved from the home to the office, as an efficient way for businesses to communicate and share information in real time with clients, business partners, and employees around the globe.
In a recent survey of instant message usage in the U.S., Jupiter Communications' Media Metrix reported that there were 10.6 million U.S. users of Yahoo Messenger, 10.3 million of MSN Messenger Service, and 21.5 million users of AOL's Instant Messenger; in the same period, AOL's ICQ subsidiary had 9.1 million in the United States.
While instant messaging is still primarily a consumer tool, business- to-business usage may not lag far behind. Approximately 70% of large corporations will install IM software during the next twelve months, according to a recent International Data Corp. (IDC) study of 72 corporations with more than 1,000 employees. Meanwhile, Yahoo has indicated plans to release a business version of its Yahoo Messenger product.
In the business environment, real-time collaborative computing requirements extend beyond instant messaging. These include: 1)Awareness -- Who is immediately available online to provide the expertise you require? 2)Conversation -- Depending on the complexity of your problem, do you require text chat, live audio, or a video conference? 3)Shared Objects -- Do you need to share whiteboards or applications?
"Companies simply want greater connectivity and ways for people to work more efficiently," explains Bethann Cregg, director of Instant Collaborative Solutions at Lotus Development Corporation. "For SameTime, it is the awareness factor, being able to communicate with people when they are available to them."
Lotus Sametime 2.0, provides an instant communication experience for Web-based collaborative applications, supports several clients, including Lotus Notes, and can be integrated with Domino applications. Using Notes templates, users can access awareness information on active Domino databases or documents, initiate conversation through Notes, and join Sametime online meetings.
This new version of the Lotus real-time collaborative platform (expected to ship at the end of calendar year 2000) features multi- media capabilities and a choice of communication options. These options include interactive audio/video conferencing over IP and the ability to broadcast audio/video/data presentations throughout a corporate network and the Internet, which allows thousands of users to participate in a single online conference. Users can also share applications or documents, such as spreadsheets or text files, or chat with AOL AIM members.
Take the case of Liggett-Stashower, a full-service integrated marketing communications company in Cleveland, Ohio, which moved to a Lotus Notes e-mail system in 1998 and recently began using Lotus Sametime for collaborative computing. Last year, using Domino products, the company built an extranet site for its clients. One feature of the site is a conference room for online meetings, where Liggett-Stashower displays the layouts and art concepts that will be discussed with clients for approval. Instead of typing out messages, conference participants are able talk over a conference phone while everyone views the same artwork.
"It's [Sametime] been great because more of the artistic people can be involved in the meeting and hear the feedback than just the account team presenting to the client," says Laura Jensen Information Systems manager at Liggett-Stashower, Inc." This has been used for our out of town clients. It's saved a lot of time and travel and we're thrilled with how easy it is to use."
It looks like Liggett-Stashower is part of a growing trend. In its report, "Finding a Place: Corporate Instant Messaging Market Forecast and Analysis, 2000-2004," IDC forecasts that 2 trillion instant messages will be sent per year by 2004 and not just by consumers.
Says Mark Levitt, research director for Collaborative Computing at IDC, "Instant Messaging is not a disruptive technology for the collaborative environment. It is a way for users to add instantaneous communications to e-mail. Companies like Lotus, with their Sametime product, offer companies the ability to do just that."
Paula Jacobs is a contributing writer and director of The Jacobs Group, a Massachusetts-based communications company.
This was first published in January 2001