VARs should learn from their teenaged children and get on board the Instant messaging (IM) train. IM can solve a lot of problems as enterprise IT managers look for ways to clear out spam-filled email boxes, integrate far-flung project teams, and offer more productive uses of their communications infrastructure. With IM, corporate staff can multitask and carry on multiple conversations, find out if someone is available to answer a quick question, and other tasks that are cumbersome to do with emails and phone calls. VARs that aren’t yet facile with IM should get more involved in this technology and understand the numerous integration opportunities that IM offers.
There are several trends to take note of, and ways that VARs can leverage IM solutions:
First, IM is becoming more of an open systems play. IBM’s SameTime is now based on open source Eclipse software and offers more plug-in features that VARs can use to provide presence information such as when someone is busy, on the phone, or at their desk and available. “IBM has worked with the Google Maps API so you can highlight everyone on your buddy list and show where they are currently located on the map,” says Chris Miller of Connectria, a St. Louis messaging integrator. Miller also has clients that have taken open source code integrations with their directory servers to show the organizational hierarchy of their IM buddies. “This cuts down the time they have needed to find someone for a particular job,” he says.
The Jabber Software Foundation has also widened IM open source opportunities, and many VARs have jumped in with selling IM servers and add-on features based on these protocols. Jabber Inc. is a separate private company that sells its own IM server appliance, which can be a good starting point for system integrators that want to deploy their own enterprise IM solutions. “What Jabber has pioneered is the ability for interoperability, so you can use IM like your e-mail system,” says Ashley Roach, a server product manager at Denver-based Jabber Inc.
Second, IM networks are getting interconnected. The major public IM suppliers such as America Online, Yahoo, Microsoft’s MSN, and Google Talk all have connections to each other now, so that users on one system can chat with others without too much trouble. And the private IM suppliers such as Microsoft’s Live Communications Server and IBM’s SameTime both offer connections to various public IM networks. This means that corporations can use IM to communicate with their customers and get replies even faster than emails. Email is woefully inadequate for guaranteed message delivery, and clumsy when it comes to conducting business in real time.
For these reasons, IM networks have become more mission-critical, which translates into more opportunities for VARs. Two big ones are storage management, for archiving messages, and compliance for SOX and other corporate governance that requires auditing client conversations. “The financial sector has the biggest motivation for archiving and maintaining their IM records. And healthcare and energy are right behind financial and coming on strong,” says Arsenio Batoy, president of Optical Laser, in Huntington Beach CA and another IM distributor. “Archiving IM messages should be a part of every IT and HR policy that addresses archiving email messages. There is a pretty good business practice there and you have the opportunity to sell lots of professional services and go beyond just selling Exchange mailboxes.”
Third, IM is going beyond user-to-user communications, and now being implemented for one-to-many communications such as between applications and users. As an example, an overloaded router or a critical server goes down, software is written to automatically notify the help desk. In the old days, IT support personnel used to rely on pagers for getting this information, now more sophisticated messages can be sent over IM networks. There are a number of VARs that are active here deploying SameTime, Microsoft LCS, and Jabber-based solutions.
Finally, with increasing IM traffic comes increased need to protect IM networks and prevent this medium from becoming yet another virus and malware transmission vector, and several vendors such as FaceTime Communications, Akonix, and Symantec have beefed up their partner programs to work with VARs to deploy these solutions.
“The deployment opportunities are endless,” says Miller. “The tools are out there and there are ways to add your own branding to the IM software as well as provide back-end integration and add presence detection into many legacy systems.”