The following text is copyright 2002 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.


Instant messaging: the problems of success


By Scott Bradner


Instant messaging is coming on like gangbusters in the enterprise networks and with its success come some of the burdens of that success.  Burdens that include deciding weather to monitor or archiving of the messages and the disruption organizational boundaries.


The number 2 link under "other top news" on the website this morning (April 14) was a story with the title "Interest in IM monitoring on the rise." The story's subtitle was "Instant messages aren't always fleeting."  The story was mostly about companies starting to realize that they need to start treating instant messages like email when it comes to corporate policy.  If the corporation archives all email to and from employees, maybe they should do the same with instant messages, which are starting to replace email, and phone calls, in a number of organizations. 


Note that an organization may well want to think quite hard about archiving all instant messages, just like they should have thought about archiving all email messages.  Ask Bill Gates how much fun it was to be asked during his depositions about email he had sent in a fit of peak years before.  If you do not archive the email then you cannot be forced to produce it if you manage to get embroiled in a lawsuit some time in the future.


I'm not a real fan of the archiving of employee communications, it seems to be just another de-humanizing step along the path towards corporate ownership of employees and a potential gold mine for opposing attorneys.  But I do understand that some employees are not ideal corporate or real-world citizens, and at least some monitoring is too often warranted but I'd personally rather that one of the key word scanning tools be used than that all email , and instant messages, be saved forever.  These tools can scan for things like "guaranteed profit" in email sent by brokers to their clients and archive (and block) those letters.


Instant messaging is continuing the flattening of organizational structures that email started.  It's just too easy to send an instant message to anyone bypassing "normal" hierarchies.  Another story on a few days ago explored the use of instant messaging in the Navy where sailors are sending messages between themselves, even when they are in different ships, and some times navies.  The navies of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany now all use the same instant messaging software.  The article seemed to think that cutting through the chain of command was a good thing, but I'm a bit worried about the security implications of a supply clerk telling someone he thinks is a supply clerk in another ship that they are stocking up on MREs.


The use of instant messaging in business is yet another case where real change has happened without the involvement of corporate planners because of the ease of innovation over the Internet.  People just started using it and the planners are only starting to catch up.  This is not the last time this will happen.  (In case it's not clear, innovation is a good thing.)


disclaimer:  Since "instant" and "Harvard" are not related concepts the above is my own ramble.