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Instant Messaging:


July 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

We are all familiar with many forms of business communication: phone, of course; email; fax; and some of us even remember when telex was a common method. There is another method that has been in use f…

We are all familiar with many forms of business communication: phone, of course; email; fax; and some of us even remember when telex was a common method. There is another method that has been in use for some years, primarily amongst teenagers — instant messaging. This is a method of instantly communicating via typed messages over the internet, rather like sending instant emails to a colleague who is sitting at his keyboard, able to reply immediately.

There are a number of instant messaging programs available for free, through various internet service suppliers or web portals. These include AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), Yahoo Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger, though it seems that every ISP is offering a similar service. These systems are not normally recommended for business use, as they are too easily abused and can open corporate networks to security hazards not otherwise encountered. Some instant messaging programs use proprietary protocols that may not be blocked or even detected by standard corporate firewalls. This can allow easy transfer of files in or out of the network. Such transfers can release confidential documents out of a network, or allow viruses or other malicious code into an otherwise-protected network. In addition, what better way to look like you are working than to be busily typing at your computer — never mind that you are messaging your buddy about last night’s sports score!

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However, it is possible to have an instant messaging system that does not expose your network to such risks and can increase productivity. Some even integrate with your current email system. Lotus has integrated its Sametime application into Notes, to allow users to see if an email addressee is currently at his computer. Indicators appear at convenient places in Notes, such as the opening page, a pop-up list or even when you type a name into an email. You can easily invite one or more of the addressees into an instant chat. This can be handled through a corporate network or a secure VPN connection, ensuring that IT security is maintained.

There are other challenges for the implementation and use of instant messaging in business. Would the advantages in communication outweigh the cost of time lost in irrelevant chatting? How much use is instant messaging when you can talk much faster than you can type? Why use instant messaging in a business environment rather than sending an email or picking up the phone? There are a number of advantages to this form of communication:

* It is an instant form of communication without the charges of a long-distance phone call.

* There can be a group of users all involved in one conversation.

* Files can be transferred during the conversation.

* A colleague can be consulted via instant messaging during a phone call, without the other party on the phone being aware.

* Some things can be more easily explained in written form.

* Text can be easily copied from a document and pasted into an instant message.

So there are advantages to an instant messaging system, but proper implementation is not trivial. It is a system that should be evaluated for your own corporate needs and must be put into operation with care to avoid compromising network stability and security.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com


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