META Report: The Future of Instant Messaging

By Matt Cain

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META Trend: During 2002, organizations will pursue "contextual collaboration" strategies that enable customers, employees, and partners to plan, share, negotiate, coordinate, build community, and exchange information within applications and enterprise portals. By 2004, collaboration suites will evolve as embedded components and process-specific services within business systems. By 2005/06, collaboration strategies will exploit maturing pervasive computing platforms.


The computer industry has never seen a phenomenon like instant messaging (IM). This simple tool for real-time text messaging and presence detection is a staple in consumers' online lives, and it is now poised to change decades-old corporate messaging patterns.

Most organizations are using IM whether they like it or not. Unless blocked at the firewall, end users frequently use outside IM services such as AOL IM/ICQ or MSN Messenger for business purposes, without central IT group authorization.

Therefore, during the next three years, IT groups will introduce corporate-sponsored IM services with requisite attention on quality of service, security, and usability to forestall public IM use. Most organizations will source IM primarily from their incumbent e-mail supplier (e.g., IBM with Lotus Sametime), though Microsoft will make a broader push by including IM capabilities in its server operating system (Windows .Net, due 4Q02). But these same organizations will be likely to use other, embedded function-specific IM instantiations (e.g., CRM) until standards and Web service support enable a ubiquitous single-vendor solution (2007).

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Three Small Obstacles To Enterprise Instant Messaging : At a gathering of IM experts this week, one theme becomes clear: IM will become ubiquitous in the enterprise.

The multitude of small general-purpose IM vendors (Bantu, Jabber, Odigo, etc.) will develop vertical (e.g., supply chain automation) or horizontal (e.g., archiving, security) expertise and move away from selling generic IM infrastructures. By 2007, IM will be woven into corporate computing infrastructures, often embedded in applications, and it will merge with traditional e-mail clients, blurring the currently rigid distinction between asynchronous and real-time messaging services. The avenues of evolution will be broad and fast:

Business Impact: Instant messaging can create business efficiencies by enabling employees, customers, and partners to instantly coordinate schedules, get quick answers, and determine the whereabouts of team members.

Bottom Line:Instant messaging (IM) will rapidly evolve into a complex but highly functional business tool to improve productivity, collaboration, and communication efficiencies. IT groups must counter unauthorized IM use by offering secure, stable, and scalable private IM networks within the next two years.

IT analyst firm Meta Group is based in Stamford, Conn. For more information, visit www.MetaGroup.com.