Instant Gratification

Instant messaging (IM) has become the equivalent of the electronic water cooler. And while nearly 50 percent of businesses use IM, most have yet to harness its power as a business tool.

Consider this: Nearly 60 percent of all Internet shopping-cart transactions are abandoned before the sale is completed because consumers get stuck making an order and can't get a support person to help them out. Now imagine using IM as a way to keep those same consumers online by giving them instant support help.

Companies, including retailers, are also looking to weave IM into their Web sites as a tool that is faster and more personal than e-mail. Vendor offerings include Bantu's Bantu IM and Presence Platform, Jabber's XML-based Instant Messaging and Presence Management solutions, and Lotus' Sametime solution.

"[IM allows for spontaneous communication that exceeds e-mail," says Rob Batchelder, a research director at Gartner.

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But because IM is like adding another pipe into the system, companies will also be looking for security mechanisms that will elevate IM from a consumer product (Like America Online's offering) to an industrial-strength technology that Global Fortune 100 companies will use. For integrators, that will mean a need to integrate IM software with existing infrastructure as well as authentication security mechanisms.

"It's a messaging system that you have to host," Batchelder says. "There are lots of value-added products needed. People are needed to install this stuff. VARs can be the ones that will weave the technology in."

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