Instant Messaging accelerates business

A lot of people think that instant messaging (IM) is another frivolous, time-wasting, distraction from real work. In actual fact, it can accelerate work and reduce emails and phone calls. It …

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3rd December 2007 at 10:14 am

A lot of people think that instant messaging (IM) is another frivolous, time-wasting, distraction from real work. In actual fact, it can accelerate work and reduce emails and phone calls. It can also act as a bonding mechanism between individuals who haven’t got time for a phone call or meeting but want to stay in touch.

It’s simple to use – one click brings up your contact list and shows the status of each individual. Skype, for example, has seven categories from ‘available’ to ‘offline’, taking in ‘do not disturb’ and ‘not available’ along the way. If someone’s trying to reach you, then a chat icon flashes and, if you have sound on, you get an audible alert.

Communication is through typing and there’s no need for pleasantries beyond a hi or a good morning. It is possible to record and store all conversations. If you’re going to introduce it, you’d best tell people to bear this in mind. It will make them think about what they’re saying.

Like all technologies, IM has its downsides. The most serious is its ability to disrupt. People either have to steel themselves to ignore the alerts when they’re busy or change their status to put themselves beyond reach. Another potential downside is that you can exchange files. You need to be sure that your anti-virus software will check them as they come in.

The great upside is that issues can be aired and problems resolved in seconds. You don’t have to compose emails or make phone calls with their associated overheads and delays.

Clearly, the sort of people who can benefit from IM are those who spend a lot of time at their computers,although the 3 mobile service provider has teamed with Skype to offer a dinky little mobile phone which provides IM on the move.

This actually highlights a weakness of the IM world. It’s best if the people you want to communicate with use the same IM system. For some years now, Skype has been my default and that of my business contacts and friends. If you’re restricting IM to your organisation, then you’ll probably find that your communications software includes an IM element. New offerings from IBM and Microsoft connect to some third party IM systems. Or, if you’re going it alone, products like Miranda or Trillian, exist to consolidate contacts and IMs from different providers.

The IM service providers are the ones who should resolve the interoperability issue, but none of them has wanted to pay for other providers’ clients hitting their networks. Now, with the prospect of serious income from business users, they have started taking the issue seriously. It will happen, just as it did with email all those years ago.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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