Real-time Results
Instant messaging provides quick communication
for departments designed to make snap decisions

Once viewed as a way for trendy teenagers to gossip, instant messaging (IM) quickly is reshaping the way we communicate. Faster than a letter, phone call or e-mail, IM technology also may change the way you do business.

“It’s gone from an experiment to a mission-critical operation,” says John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology at IBM, which started using instant messaging a few years ago. “It’s become a way of life — a way of doing business.”

IBM’s employees send more than 1 million instant messages a day to each other. The technology significantly has reduced the company’s amount of e-mail, which is necessary since, in the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 70 million e-mail users.

In a survey of 164 companies conducted recently by Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash., almost 30 percent of respondents said their company uses IM, and another 42 percent said they would likely use it in the future. In another survey by Gartner in Stamford, Conn., more than 70 percent of all U.S. companies said they would use IM by 2003.

Business users are discovering that IM allows them to have virtual conferences and to collaborate easily on projects. It also can put an end to the annoying games of telephone tag and e-mail ping-pong matches.

For housekeeping departments, this technology can make it easier to alert building tenants of any project work, area closures or other related issues. Staff located in different facilities or on different campuses also could communicate in real time to make snap decisions. Different facilities departments also could communicate quickly regarding issues that overlap with housekeeping.

Most of the popular IM programs provide a variety of features:

  • Instant messages — Employees can send notes back and forth with any co-worker who is online
  • Images — Employees can look at an image stored on a co-worker’s computer
  • Files — Employees can share files by sending them directly to co-workers
  • Streaming content — Real-time or near-real-time stock quotes and news are available

While there are many advantages to IM technology, there also are some risks. It’s important to remember that IM is not considered a secure way to communicate. The free, popular instant messaging systems, such as AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger, often bypass network safeguards such as anti-virus software and firewalls. That can create back doors for hackers because they lack basic security features needed to protect corporate networks.

AOL says it’s building a secure IM service for companies. Microsoft and others sell similar products. Some run about $35 a user.

Despite the current risks, the future of the technology is bright. Consider that e-mail, the most rapidly adopted form of communication ever known, in less than two decades has gone from obscurity to mainstream dominance. With the ever-increasing demands of our fast-paced business world, IM may prove to be the same kind of instant hit in your office.