IBM Manager: IM Muscles Up for Corporate Users

Jeremy Dies, an IBM manager, talks about assertions that instant messaging will replace email as the corporate communication tool of choice, coming innovations and the security risks that go along with the convenience.
Jeremy Dies spends a big chunk of his day thinking about instant messaging.

As the Offerings Manager for Lotus Advanced Collaboration at IBM, Dies says instant messaging technology -- whether its from AOL, Yahoo or MSN -- is no longer just a fun toy that lets friends chat it up over the Internet. He says it's become a critical tool for the enterprise.

In an economic age when information is money, instant information could mean the difference between saving and losing a deal, or beating a competitor to a new client. IM is taking its place on the corporate desktop. IDC, an analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass., estimates that the global instant messaging market will increase more than 10 fold in the next three years, going from $18.4 million in 2002 to $229.2 million in 2005. IDC also projects that the amount of money companies pay for IM is expected to grow, jumping from $133 million this year to $1.1 billion in 2005.

And here Dies talks with Datamation about assertions that IM will displace email as the communication tool of choice, and he talks about the risks that go along with the convenience.

Q: Is IM really a player in the enterprise or is it still basically a way for friends to chat when they're in the office? It's a storm right now that is really taking a lot of IT departments by surprise. The problem is that users are downloading whatever IM software they want onto their system. Most IT departments don't have any control over it. They're using free services that are completely insecure. That means people are sending corporate confidential information willy nilly over the Internet without knowing who could be listening in.

Q: How dangerous is it for users to share confidential information over IM? Public networks don't use encryption. Anyone can eavesdrop. It can be really damaging from a business standpoint. How can I be sure I'm really talking to the person I think I'm talking to. And how can I be sure that no one else is listening.

Q: So how do companies ensure that their IM communications are secure? The first and foremost restriction is that it has to be just an internal network. We use it internally here at IBM. About 270,000 people are using it here... A lot of customers are coming to us and saying they have security problems and want to know what to do. We tell them to standardize. You shouldn't be on a public network where anyone can be out there. If you need to IM with business partners or customers, then you set up a link. You still have the privacy you need.

Q: Some people have been vocal about predicting that instant messaging will replace email. Do you see that happening? There's always a value in having an inbox. There's always some task that you'll want to look at on your own time. And then there will be information that is urgent and you need to see it right now -- that's perfect for instant messaging. But if everything was an instant message, you'd go crazy. It would be intrusive. You need some information to come and sit in your inbox until you're ready to deal with it.

Q: What changes or innovations do you see coming for IM? There is something we're seeing... the concept of presence awareness. You'll be able to tell that someone is active or online anywhere their name appears. Right now, when someone is online, their name appears on buddy lists. You should be able to see that through a Web page or an Office document. If I'm online, my name should appear in other applications. They'll be able to collaborate in a new context.

Q: Do you think instant messaging on public networks will continue to have a corporate presence? No. At least I'd hope not. The days of consumer instant messaging in businesses are numbered. People are knocking down the doors for private IM solutions. Businesses need a business tool. Instant messaging will have to become a business tool. It will need security. It will need to be reliable and it will need to be scalable.

Q: What kind of policies should IT departments consider setting up for IM usage? You want to consider limiting people''t want to be messaged. From a policy and a cultural standpoint, that should be OK. People have to know when it's OK to use IM and when it's not OK to use IM. There's certainly an etiquette involved.

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