Instant messaging (IM), originally targeted at consumer markets, is increasingly filling a critical team collaboration role in remote working environments. The latest IM products incorporating improved Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony functionality could significantly improve productivity in distributed workforces. Vendors need to focus on packaging, pricing of services, and market education if IM technology is to become a significant part of an organization's networking solutions. Ventana Research supports the innovative use of IM as a method to further improve employee efficiency and effectiveness.
Email has become the most misused communication tool in the organization. Most large organizations have introduced email etiquette policies to help users alleviate the growing burden of email maintenance. Such problems are compounded in smaller organizations where they often suffer from lack of mature networking and application capability to access critical business information. Users of IM tools for personal purposes are increasingly using these tools as a convenient mechanism for collaboration and as an alternative to email queries.
The new generation of IM tools now incorporates VoIP telephony, enabling both free PC-to-PC voice calls with a suitable headset and the ability to make and pick-up calls to landline and mobile handsets. Skype is one of the original peer-to-peer, IM-based, VoIP service providers. With over 7 million users, it has proved the efficacy of the model in the consumer market and is testing PC-phone features. British Telecom (BT) and Yahoo have collaborated to create a new product, BT Yahoo communicator, which provides similar VoIP capability and unified billing to your regular phone bill for the calls that breakout into traditional telephony destinations.
These new IM products are targeted at the consumer market. Vendors have an opportunity to re-task these consumer products to acquire new small to medium-sized enterprise customers before these organizations have significant networking resource availability. IM products could become a beachhead on which to sell more traditional networking services and products.
Ventana Research believes VoIP IM products will provide a robust interim solution to alleviate some of the email overload in organizations of all sizes. If properly packaged and marketed as a value added service optimized for network requirements, these products could be a valuable, and long-term, workforce collaboration tool to overcome email and other communication issues caused by immature networking and organizational infrastructure.
Vendors will need to carefully consider how to package and market IM products to overcome concerns in the areas of support, security and usability to enable IM products to fulfill their market potential. It is Ventana Research's view that such vendors are missing the opportunity to retain and gain new customers on the ground floor by failing to educate this market on its IM products and addressing the specific SME concerns.
Organizations should embrace the use of IM products in an informal way for the time being. Adoption of these products as part of a long-term workforce collaboration solution will depend on vendors addressing concerns around security, optimization in network situations, expandability, and pricing of associated telephony services.
Martin McCann is principal of Performance Advantage limited and is research director focused on performance management at Ventana Research.