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Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) is something that most of us associate with Hotmail or AOL and for business, it’s mostly something that they would prefer not to encourage, for security purposes if nothing else.

Lotus Development, now part of IBM, have been trying to get corporate IM off the ground for years in the shape of Lotus Sametime and I can remember it being offered to the then e-Envoy at a meeting at the Cabinet Office, three years ago. It didn’t really take off, although government bought into Lotus Notes big-time and when I was asked to comment on email and its importance to the Hutton enquiry last month, I did have one thought, which I kept to myself.

Imagine for a moment if all the thousands of emails produced as evidence at the enquiry missed-out something rather more innocuous? After all, if I didn’t wish to have something kept ‘on the record’ then I would quite possibly IM rather than email. This is of course why large businesses are not all that keen on facilitating IM through their firewalls, as it offers a great exit route for all kinds of information without the inconvenience of an audit trail.

This year, IM is making a bit of a comeback, as Microsoft leaps into the rather interesting concept of corporate IM, re-fashioning what Lotus started and adding a little extra spin to suit the times.

Computer Weekly reports that Microsoft sees the release of its Office Live Communications Server as a "key moment" in establishing IM as a business tool. Using Live Communications Server, companies will be able to run their own enterprise IM network and address security concerns related to public services. It can log and manage employees' IM usage. The product is capable of determining whether a user is online and available for communication in Office applications and can extend this "presence" information to other applications such as custom portals.

If you still aren’t convinced, then the reason I’m writing about IM today, really comes about as a consequence of the research work I have been doing on what business want from directory services after 192 and in the new age of 118. Well, of course they want telephone numbers, mobile and landline and perhaps email addresses too, if they could all be lumped together but there are other ideas, such as shared directories between companies and perhaps the opportunity to contact a business associate in real time, on any device and through the office server and not through hotmail. This is extending the concept of ‘presence’ into the business space with a model which business can feel more comfortable with. Lotus Development always had a habit of trailblazing a little early, look at Lotus Notes and it’s normally Microsoft which leaps in to a technology when the time is ripe.

I think there’s a new and interesting space for IM services in the corporate space. Rather like pushing a large stone over a hill, the time has come for IM to pick-up momentum as a useful corporate solution that benefits from convergence in a number of different areas, the potential for shared directories being one example.

That leaves me with one final question. I wonder , did Alistair Campbell have a Hotmail address?


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