Being careful with IM use

Instant messaging, once the turf of teenagers chatting with peers and family members keeping in touch long distance, is an increasingly valuable business tool.

And companies are exploiting IM effectively. Managers can touch base with peers and direct reports in real time, telecommuters can feel more connected to events at the office, and questions needing immediate responses are no longer held up by delays. The more e-mail clutter users face and the more crucial messages they miss while scanning hundreds of spam messages the more IM’s popularity will grow.

Yet, unlike many other mission-critical systems, IM is being deployed throughout many businesses without a thought about administering it. In fact, much of IM’s business growth is the result of the formation of ad hoc “buddy lists,” often at the behest of a manager who chooses the IM tool, such as America Online Inc.’s AIM, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. But while IM may increase productivity, many users are often too connected, since IM creates pressure to work longer.

But there’s an even darker side to IM that may be exposing businesses and IT managers to risk. Consumer-based services such as AIM and MSN Messenger are just not up to the demands of the enterprise environment. If your employees are deploying ad hoc IM networks with some of these free commercial services, here’s what you must be careful about: