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Using IM In Your Business

With the recent news of Microsoft purchasing Parlano, I had to comment on what IM, especially Jabber, can do in the corporate sector. For starters, according to TechDirt, 85% of businesses are using instant messaging in their environment. To me, this isn't too terribly surprising. And Microsoft is making a good move, in that it recognizes that incorporating real-time presence in external applications enriches the work flow, and increases productivity. I certainly don't blame Microsoft for making the move to acquire Parlano outright, and try to increase their market share in the business world. What I do blame, however, is businesses jumping ship on open and free standards for vendor lock-in. For example, at my last employment, ICQ was the preferred instant messaging of choice. I had several problems with this from the get-go.

For one, why message employees internally using a solution that leaves the local network? With ICQ, and other legacy protocols, such as MSN, and most likely this merger with Microsoft and Parlano, your message leaves your local computer to the remote servers, which then identifies the account that the message is intended for, and sends it to the user. If the recipient of the message is in the same corporate network as the sender, wouldn't it make more sense to have a local instant messaging server, this keeping all chatting and data internal? Especially if that chatting was of any sort of sensitive nature? Naturally.

The second thing that bothers me about corporate instant messaging is the lack of security. It would seem to me, that if a business needed to use instant messaging, and the messages were leaving the network to the outside world, wouldn't security be the primary concern? You would think so, but apparently, it's not so. Sure, with 3rd party plugins, and certain IM clients, security via client-to-client encryption can be enforced. But is it happening? Why not just implement a protocol that uses encryption by default, like Jabber? Then there is no need to rely on certain clients or 3rd party plugins to keep the messaging secure. It's already taken care of.

So, this question goes out to those 85% of businesses using instant messaging. When will security be your primary concern with regards to instant messaging? In other words, when will you recognize, if you haven't already, that setting up in-house Jabber servers is superior to any other solution for corporate IM? Hopefully, you take that question seriously.

Now, it's the tools that makes the business productive. If a certain tool meets the needs of the business better than other tools do, it's an obvious choice. But what tools out there in the world of IM make a business productive? Let me rephrase. What implementations in the world of IM make a business productive? For example, there are whiteboards, video chat, voice chat, multi-user chat, and file transfer to name a few. Can Jabber meet these needs to help increase the productivity of your business? Let's take a look:

  • Whiteboards are the ability to draw on a virtual surface, thus enhancing the collaboration of those involved. Rather than everyone meeting in a central location around a physical whiteboard, virtual whiteboards, accompanied with chat (text, voice or video) can reach the same goals. There is only one client that I am aware of that meets this need over a Jabber nework. It is Coccinella, a Free and Open Source client that also supports voice chat over the Jabber network. It's cross platform compatible, as well as easy to setup and use.
  • Video Chat is becoming ever more popular these days in business. I have worked at a company where video conferencing was crucial to their meetings, and the success of the business. Twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon Monday through Saturday. I have seen and heard other businesses doing the same. In fact, the company that I work for currently, introPLAY, uses video chat on occasion as needed. Can this be done over a Jabber network? Most definitely! Ultimately, you just need a client that supports video and Jabber accounts, such as iChat. There are a few of these clients out and about.
  • Voice Chat (VOIP) is the wave of the future for both land line telephony and messaging presence. It's one thing to type from one person to another in plain text, however, it's completely another to hear their voice. More can be said in a shorter time, and sensing voice tone can be crucial where the same in text could be misinterpreted. Several clients support voice over IP, including the Coccinella client mentioned above. Extending VOIP further with Jingle or Asterisk installations bring full blown telephony to the office with no price at all, and great support.
  • Multi-user chat (MUC) can be crucial when offices are separated, or meeting in person won't suffice. Of course, getting things done at your desk during a MUC session can make all the difference in the world increasing productivity. Some offices have found that local IRC meets the need just fine, of which several clients that support Jabber accounts also support IRC. However, many Jabber clients support MUC over Jabber without the need for another tool. My favorite being Gajim.
  • Lastly, file transfer can be a nice tool to those who don't have access to SCP, FTP or even email attachments. Sending files, be it documents, images, audio, video, binaries, zipped, archived, whatever, can make getting what needs to be shared easy. Every client that I have ever used supports file transfers with ease. This should be a no brainer.

Again, it's the proficiency and effectiveness of a company that's going to make it successful. With the right tools, especially in the instant messaging department, businesses should be able to get the most done with a minimal amount of effort. Jabber makes this easy. So, while Microsoft and Parlano may be "innovating" the IM space, there are tools already there to utilize. Besides, who's going to complain about free? 🙂

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