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08 March 2006

When will IM come of age?

Instant messaging (IM) has been a popular consumer tool for several years now but has yet to become accepted within the business world. Fear of misuse seems to be a key argument against adoption, with comments such as "people will just waste time chatting" being one of the common excuses. There are two key reasons why I believe organisations simply cannot ignore the potential of IM:

1. The shift towards real-time business

The connected world we now live in is increasing the pace of business, and the successful organisations will be those who are able to react in real-time to changes in their markets. Instant messaging is just that - instant. In a real-time environment, instant communication is a good thing.

2. "Generation Tech"

The generation coming through college has grown up with the Internet. They don't understand the issue us 'oldies' have with information overload. They crave information or, rather, they crave instant answers and are used to getting them. Will they want to work for dinosaur relics who make it difficult to get stuff done?

Let's return to that common excuse, 'people will just waste time chatting'. Why is this a good reason for not using IM? If people want to gossip, they'll gossip. Be it on the telephone, by the coffee machine, outside in the smoker's area... where ever. Risk of people taking too much is a poor reason for not adopting technology. Talking gets business done.

(For an explanation of the following diagrams, please review 'causal loop diagrams'. The short version: an arrow is used to denote a relationship between two entities. An 'S' means that an increase in one leads to an increase in the other. An 'O' means an increase in one leads to a decrease in the other.)

According to Gartner ("The Knowledge Worker Investment Paradox", July 2002), employees get 50 - 75% of their information directly from other people. So, the easier it is to contact someone, the more likely you are to receive the answer to a question, and answers (should) lead to satisfied customers:

Also according to Gartner, 7 out of 10 phone calls go direct to voicemail. This one isn't difficult: the more likely you go direct to voice mail, the less likely you are able to contact someone, the less likely you will receive an answer, and customer satisfaction goes down:

The Guardian quantified this issue in an article published April 2005: "Telephone tag costs British companies £20 billion per year." Surely any system that makes it easier for people to talk to each other will improve productivity? Sooooo, what can be done to reduce the likelihood of being sent direct to voicemail?

By being able to see someone's presence as online, you have an immediate indication that the person is available to answer a question. Presence information increases the ability to contact someone and reduces the likelihood you will be sent directly to voicemail. The better able you are to contact someone, the more likely you are to get the answer you seek and customer satisfaction goes up.

So what's the deal with not adopting IM?

There are corporate versions of IM designed for business use. These versions typically support standard protocols (making it easier to integrate with other applications) and include additional features such as encryption and auditing for improved security and compliance requirements. Surely it's better to give this technology a try than come up with untested excuses for not reducing your telephone tag bill...

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