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.
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."