META Report: The Future of Instant Messaging
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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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:
- Archiving: We expect the same tension that exists around e-mail archiving and purging to occur with IM. Some corporations may want IM messages archived for regulatory, knowledge management (e.g., expertise location), or legal reasons, but others want to rapidly and completely purge IM messages to avoid being susceptible to court-ordered discovery processes. Therefore, vendors will focus on both areas - complete purging and archiving. Microsoft has licensed archiving capabilities from IMLogic and Cordant, which provide HIPAA- and SEC-compliant archiving for its Exchange 2000 IM capability, and IBM Sametime has an archiving API for third-party vendors (Redmind, Principal Software). We expect enterprise search engines to crawl IM metadata repositories by 2004 (not the messages themselves).
- Security and hygiene: Unencrypted messages, viruses, unfiltered messages and user identity management are all current IM security and privacy risks. Vendors such as Bantu and WiredRed encrypt IM sessions and stored IM messages; we expect encryption to become common within two years. PKI vendors such as VeriSign will offer services on top of established vendors such as IBM. Auditing and directory-based authentication will be a focus. The SEC and NASD have mandated that IM must be treated the same as e-mail when used by financial institutions for corporate/client correspondence about equities sales, meaning that IM messages must be monitored by compliance officers for illegal activity and archived in some circumstances. HIPAA privacy regulations have also been extended to IM, and we expect government open-meeting laws to target IM. Likewise, corporations will extend e-mail hygiene services (content blocking, spam and virus protection) to IM services. Vendors will quickly fill the void, with traditional e-mail hygiene players (Tumbleweed, Sybari, Symantec) joining existing IM filter suppliers such as SRA International and eSniff. Corporations will extend policy and procedure documents to include IM.
- Management: Like any other corporate application, IT managers will want in-depth management tools to determine application health and usage patterns. We expect vendors and third parties to aggressively add management and reporting utilities for leading IM packages. IM vendors will progressively add intelligent server services like storage of contact lists for backup and roaming support, failover, and delivery preferences.
- Standards: AOL, which holds the key to ubiquitous IM interoperability given its size, has dragged its feet in offering any practical plan for broad IM system interoperability. We expect it to interconnect point-to-point with other large IM systems on its terms only - it has already extended services to IBM (Sametime) and Sun (iPlanet's Portal Server Instant Collaboration Pack) - but we do not expect interoperability with Microsoft's network for the next three years. However, we expect broad industry support for SIP and SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions), enabling interoperability between SIP-enabled IM clients and servers, and ultimately, between SIP-enabled networks. Microsoft and IBM have both committed to support SIP, and we expect general use during 2004/05.
- Integration: IM and presence detection are valuable when embedded within applications, enabling communication to occur in the context of the application. IBM and Microsoft will expose their IM services via Web services during 2003/04 (most likely tunneling SIP through SOAP). Jabber, which has open source and commercial versions, currently provides a set of programming interfaces for invoking IM services and provides custom IM wireless delivery for Oracle9i applications. IM will be tied to knowledge management strategies by 2007, enabling any username in any application to be made "live" if that person is online.
- Feature set: Very rich IM capabilities already exist (file transfer, VoIP, application sharing, etc.), but the real issues are packaging, usability, and maturity. Microsoft's new Windows Messenger client is a good example of future IM clients: it has videoconferencing, telephony, and collaboration capabilities packaged in an intuitive bundle. Groove has the most complete feature set (VoIP, IM, chat, shared whiteboard, co-browsing, file sharing, shared calendar/contacts), but we classify these features as client-side teamware, underscoring the closeness of the two markets (see WCS Delta 1120, 25 Apr 2002). Videoconferencing will be an IM-derived service, but will largely be relegated to consumer use for the next several years. Widespread corporate use of IM-based videoconferencing will emerge in 2006.
- E-mail integration: We expect the major vendors (IBM and Microsoft) to merge IM and e-mail clients, enabling, for example, an e-mail recipient to detect presence and IM the sender from within the e-mail client, or enabling the recipient to turn an IM into an e-mail thread. This will correspond to the way users work and will provide users with common search, storage, directory, task, and calendar tools across both messaging paradigms. We expect to see converged fat e-mail clients (Outlook and Notes) in 2004, with full-function Web clients coming 12-18 months later. Microsoft and IBM will add Web conferencing features to this client.
- CRM: We expect IM to take on more intelligence in CRM circumstances, whereby server-side agents with natural language understanding and processing capabilities will communicate with consumers via IM, as Artificial Life and Active Buddy have recently done for sales, marketing, and support purposes.
- Mobile support: Mobile support (phones, PDAs, Pocket PCs) for corporate IM systems is available from vendors such as IBM with specialized servers. But broad heterogeneous interoperability is difficult. Three of the top cell phone manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola) are developing a standard for IM interoperability over their handsets (called Wireless Village), suggesting a strong IM/wireless partnership though a wireless/wireline bridge is years away. A wireless IM bridge to traditional IM networks is crucial for overall market growth, because users and corporations are hesitant to support dual networks. We also expect to see a host of vendors develop IM tools that enable users to remotely query corporate applications for real-time data delivery, as Intanda is currently doing.
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.