IM use as a government tool? You bet

The commercial world may be ahead of the government in adopting instant messaging for business, but feds aren't lagging far behind, one IM industry official says.

'They are potentially being smarter about how they do it,' said Jon Sakoda, vice president of products for IMlogic Inc. of Waltham, Mass. 'The government has recognized that instant messaging is a business tool. They are going to be one of the top vertical markets in implementing it this year.'

The company's IM Manager is being used by a number of agencies for managing instant messenger traffic, said Sakoda, who spoke yesterday at the Comnet conference in Washington.

As is usual with security products, Sakoda would not name specific customers but said interest is particularly high in the Defense Department and intelligence users, and among agencies dealing with health care and financial services, where industry has widely adopted instant messaging.

Agencies are taking pains to identify and control instant messaging traffic on their networks and to apply business and security policies to its use, he said.

'Half the battle is making sure you've got all your instant messaging' under your control, Sakoda said.

Instant messaging comprises a set of proprietary products that allow peer-to-peer communication between desktop system users. Originally adopted for personal communications, the technology has seen growing use as a business tool. Such use has created problems as well as opportunities.

'Instant messaging is a pipe, and with any pipe you have viruses and spam that can come in,' Sakoda said. 'There also is the risk of what leaves the organization over the pipe.'

Nonetheless, he views the implementation of instant messaging in government as inevitable, given that the communications application is now integrated with common software suites, such as Microsoft Office and Lotus Workplace.

Sakoda offered three steps for safely setting up instant messaging:

  • Take control of the network by identifying and managing existing unauthorized instant message traffic.

  • Implement an approved, common instant message platform throughout the enterprise and extend security and business policies to include its use.

  • Integrate instant messaging with other applications to generate a return on investment.

  • There are no recognized interoperability guides or standards for instant messaging products, which complicates the task of making it a useful tool. Some effort is being made toward establishing instant messaging standards, but it will be quite a while before they are in place, Sakoda said.

    Why? Because the market is dominated by America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Yahoo Inc., 'four companies that rarely talk to each other,' he said.

    About the Author

    William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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