Agent pushes IM into the enterprise

A new instant messaging agent should encourage enterprise managers to think about adopting messaging as a means of communications for their business, says one analyst.

Halifax-based Abridean Inc. has announced its Instant Messaging (IM) Application Agent. The IM Agent provisions the Instant Messaging feature of Microsoft Exchange 2000. And, says Greg O’Malley, vice-president of technology at Abridean, while the agent boasts a number of new features, its best one is the confidence it gives users.

“In terms of a service provider, being able to deploy instant messaging as a hosted offering to tens of thousands of users, they have to have a mechanism to do that securely and consistently every time they use it,” he said from his Halifax office. “They need to be able to do it with confidence.”

After installing desktop IM software and registering on a directory server, users log in, see who else is currently connected, and then send them instant text messages. Abridean’s Instant Messaging agent simplifies the deployment and ongoing management of IM servers in a shared, dedicated, or mixed environment. The IM agent controls routing and home server allocation from numerous viewpoints, which ensures end customer service level commitments. Individual users are appropriately assigned home servers and routing servers in order to optimize the infrastructure that the provider has deployed for that software application. The new features bring instant messaging into the realm of other classic communications tools, O’Malley said.

“The interesting thing about instant messaging, we saw with e-mail, that it is a killer application,” he said. “Initially, it was the telephone, then voice mail, then e-mail, and now instant messaging is a hybrid of e-mail and voice mail.”

Brian Lilja, chief architect of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based USA.NET, a wholesale e-mail provider, has been working with Abridean to integrate the agent into its offering.

“The first thing it gives us is integrated provisioning and management interface so that our customers can do their instant messaging management,” Lilja said.

Lilja knows that most people in the industry still see instant messaging as consumer-based right now, but he hopes that image will change with time.

“But there is starting to be a lot of traction in the enterprises because they want to get their hands on an IM,” he said.

Research group Gartner Inc. predicts the total number of instant messaging users will grow to 180 million worldwide by 2004 and that 60 per cent of all real-time online communication – voice or text – will be driven through instant messaging technology.

Kneko Burney, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that particularly now that people are less eager to travel, instant messaging is becoming more and more attractive.

“There’s not a lot of players out there with this kind of robustness,” she said. “Some have components of what Abridean does, but not the focus.”

She added that it is fairly common to find messaging solutions on the market, but having it be part of a communications service bundle is not as common.

That being said, Burney said adoption for enterprises may still take a while.

“I don’t think instant messaging is going to go flying off the shelves this year, but I think you will see an interest in usage and a serious interest,” she said.

Pricing for the agent depends on the individual customer’s needs and the product will be generally available in March.