Instant Messaging Is Here - to Stay

Instant Messaging Is Here—to Stay

It’s estimated that 90 percent of businesses already are engaging in some level of instant messaging. [6] That includes some 25 million U.S. business users who, according to The Yankee Group, are instant messaging on a public network without management’s knowledge or authorization. [7]

All across the country in offices large and small, unauthorized employees are downloading free consumer-grade IMsoftware from the three leading public network players—AOL InstantMessenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and MSN Messenger Service—directly onto their desktop computers at work.

The most avid instant messagers download every available IM product, or ‘‘client,’’ so they can communicate internally and externally with any other user, minus software compatibility concerns. Industry insiders estimate that 66 percent of active instant messagers have more than one client installed—and in use—on their desktop computers. [8]

[6]Harry Wessel, ‘‘IM: Two Little Letters Equal a Big Help to Some Businesses,’’ Orlando Sentinel (June 25, 2003), G1.

[7]Lisa Meyer, ‘‘IM Intrigues the Enterprise: VARs Tasked to Control Disparate Instant-Messaging Implementations,’’ Varbusiness (May 12, 2003), 62.

[8]Telephone interview with Jonathan Christensen, CTO, Face-Time Communications (October 21, 2003),

Management Is Oblivious to Rogue—and Risky—Instant Messaging Use

Rogue employees spend the workday engaging in risky online behavior without technology in place to prevent security breaches, to monitor content, or to retain and archive IM business records. Oblivious to the behavior and out of touch with the technology, some employers simply allow high-risk IMto occur, absent of written rules and policies to govern employee behavior and protect the organization from litigation, security breaches, and other risks.

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Real-Life E-Disaster Story:
Brokers Instant Messaging with No Regard for Regulatory Rules

An internal survey revealed that more than half of the 1,300 employees of regional stock brokerage firm Stifel Nicolas had downloaded free IM software from the Web without management’s knowledge or approval.

Brokers were using IM without the authorization of the firm’s compliance department, which is charged with ensuring that the firm adheres to recently tightened SEC, NASD, and NYSE regulations covering the management, monitoring, and retention of instant messages. [9]

The government and industry regulators who oversee financial services firms are serious about IM and e-mail compliance. Five Wall Street brokerages were fined $8.25 million for violating SEC e-mail retention rules in 2002.[10]

Securities firms that violate regulators’ IM rules, intentionally or accidentally, should expect to be hit with equally robust penalties.

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[9]Dan Orzech, ‘‘Under IT’s Radar, Instant Messaging Invades Corporate Desktops,’’ InstantMessaging Planet (July 14, 2003), .

[10]Nicholas Varchaver, ‘‘The Perils of E-Mail,’’ Fortune ( February 17, 2003), 96.

Why Are So Many Employees Willing to Break Rules and Risk Termination (or Worse) for Instant Messaging?

Think of instant messaging as a hybrid of the telephone and e-mail. IM enables users to hold give-and-take real-time conversations with multiple people, just as the phone does—minus the hassles of phone tag. IM also offers all the capabilities and features of e-mail— at lightning speed.

IM appeals to users’ desire for fast, real-time chat. Many business users—particularly stock brokers, customer-service representatives, and salespeople who interact with clients—feel that IM delivers a necessary competitive advantage that e-mail and the telephone just can’t match: speed. If you don’t use the technology, they argue, you won’t get the business.

Added benefits: With IM, you don’t have to sit and wait for a reply, which can take hours if you’re using e-mail. You need not bother sorting through a stack of e-mails piled up in your inbox. Nor do you have to sift through a backlog of voice mail messages— where two-thirds of business calls land. [11]

[11]Brian Deagon, ‘‘Top Brass Slow to Embrace Instant Messaging Technology—Explaining IM Benefits,’’ Investor’s Business Daily (July 2, 2003).