IT managers must take control of instant messaging

As an IT manager, you like to think you run a tight ship. Antivirus updates come often, unsanctioned software downloads are forbidden and spam filtering is your number-one pastime. Then imagine your surprise to discover one day that 40 percent of your corporate users are doing business over consumer instant messaging (IM) products you had no idea were on their machines.

What do you do?

"Take back your networks today!," Francis deSouza, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of enterprise IM company IMlogic Inc., implored the attendees of the Instant Messaging Planet Spring 2003 conference in Boston this week.

"The number-one myth is thinking that you don't have IM in your company," deSouza said. "Now you have to learn how to control it."

While the wildfire speed of IM adoption within businesses has caught many IT managers by surprise, there is no lack of vendors offering to help them out of their quandary.

In recent months, industry heavyweights and startups alike have announced their intention to jump into the market.

"We've gone through three stages," de Souza said. "First, there was ignorance about IM use, then denial, then anger because the IT department didn't deploy it," he said. "Now we've got to move to acceptance and support."

While IT managers may want to take some time to figure out whether they need one of the corporate IM products now at hand, deSouza gave some pointers for what IT managers can do today to regain control.

First, administrators should figure out who is using IM within their company and what consumer product they are using. At the least, the IT department should standardize all users on one product, and manage their use, as well as take control of namespace. Companies would not like to find an employee doing business over IM with an ID like "studbroker," deSouza pointed out.

IT managers should also take the time to configure all the IM clients in the same manner, he said.

Once chat-happy users have been reined in, deSouza gave IT managers other food for thought if they decide to employ a corporate IM product. Administrators should map their IM namespace to the corporate directory, plan network employment and perhaps charge back business units for support of their IM use.

"This takes the IT department out of the policing role," deSouza said.

While some IT departments may have been unwillingly introduced to IM, according to deSouza, it's one of the better things that could have happened to them.

IM gives companies better spam control because only people on users' contact lists have access and it actually lowers corporate network traffic because users aren't sending as much e-mail, he said.

So while IT managers' ships may have sailed off course, according to deSouza, IM will lead to swifter corporate sailing.

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