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'Productivity' trumps 'security' as IM buzzword

Microsoft executives at a conference in Boston addressed changes in attitudes about enterprise instant messaging over the past year.

BOSTON -- It's been nearly a year since Microsoft released the trial version of its enterprise instant messaging platform, Office Live Communications Server, which was then code-named Greenwich.

At this time last year, the early adopters of corporate IM -- including financial services firms -- were demanding better tools for security and regulatory compliance. Now, there is more talk about how IM can be used to increase productivity in the enterprise.

"Last year, the financial services companies were using instant messaging in their normal messaging environment, so they had requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, and HIPAA in health care," said Dennis Karlinsky, Microsoft's lead product manager for real-time communications, on Wednesday at the Instant Messaging Planet Conference & Expo.

"People are OK now with the fact that IM will be part of their messaging," he said. "They realize it's something they can't avoid."

Robert Mahowald, a research manager at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., agrees. He said that he has observed that security and regulatory compliance is less a buying motivator for customers today than it was 18 months ago. "Today, productivity and business processes lead the pack," Mahowald said.

"Either [customers] are less concerned about regulation, or now they know it's baked into the product," he said.

Mahowald said that customers are now apprised of the broader usages of IM and want to see the technology integrated into their other applications. He said that enterprise systems like Microsoft's product and IBM Lotus Instant Messaging are not shutting down consumer accounts. Currently, of the nearly 200 million consumer IM accounts worldwide, about 28% are actually corporate users, according to IDC. Mahowald said he expects to see that percentage drop over time, as corporate products improve.

Paul Haverstock, an architect in the real-time messaging group at Microsoft, said that his company will focus its efforts in IM in two ways.

The first is to continue working on getting different IM systems to interoperate. Office Live Communications Server, which has been available since last fall, supports Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the SIMPLE protocol (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions). But to get IMs using different protocols to interoperate, a customer needs a gateway to act as a protocol translator.

A second activity involves integrating IM within applications. Enterprise IM vendors used to sell IM as a standalone service, but they now realize that users want more than a communications application silo. Presence awareness, for example, is already built into Office 2003 applications.

Haverstock said that it's the customers, not the vendors, who are starting to drive the use of IM technology in mission-critical applications. He cited a few examples, including the receipt of live data feeds from a refinery, and an aerospace application, where real-time communication can be used to provide a quick fix to a problem.

Microsoft's Karlinsky said that the company will ship a second version of Office Live Communications Server late this year. The new version will include connectivity improvements.


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