IM alright for business - Gartner

An analyst is urging companies to embrace instant messaging - as long as it is a corporate version rather than a free download

Despite nagging concerns about their security, instant-messaging applications are now mature enough for corporate use if Australian companies change their perception of the platform, says a senior Gartner analyst.

Companies should evaluate corporate versions of such packages and not rely on free or low-cost alternatives that can be downloaded from the Internet, said Bob Hayward, senior vice president and research fellow at Gartner Asia-Pacific.

"Yes, there are security concerns about using instant messaging but that's because you're exposed to the [public] Internet by using applications such as Yahoo and AOL Messenger [so] security risks are inherent," Hayward said.

Examples of enterprise-class instant messaging products include Cloudswell's SCIM Enterprise Server and Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2003.

He acknowledged other disadvantages -- such as the lack of audit trails and poor integration capabilities -- posed for corporations when using consumer-level instant messaging software.

However, he highlighted advantages such as low overheads for employees communicating and collaborating between different geographies, and productivity gains since "you only message someone when you know he or she is there."

"Organisations in Australia are now taking a hard look at how instant messaging can benefit their business," Hayward told participants during his Top 10 Strategic Technologies in 2004 presentation at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Sydney.

Wi-Fi is another technology earmarked for growth next year but like instant messaging, it still suffers from security weaknesses.

Many organisations are stunned to find rogue access points and to how easy it is for security breaches [to happen] but we see this scenario changing over the next 18 months as out-of-the-box Wi-Fi products will address security issues, Hayward said.

"Unlike WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security specification found in newer wireless hardware offers 'business-class security,' and the next refresh cycle of the protocol will be even better [for security]," he said.

According to Hayward, other recommended technologies Australian companies should consider adopting from 2004 include:

  • Real-time data warehouses.
  • Internal Web services.
  • Policy-based management.
  • IP telephony.
  • Utility computing.
  • Grid computing.
  • Network security.
  • RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags.