Using Instant Messaging as a Support Resource - Page 2

 By Troy Thompson | Posted Oct 17, 2000
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In a poll by Forrester Research, 50 Fortune 500 companies indicated that they expect to use IM services by 2002. There are several reasons to use IM:

  • Price--It's free. All you have to do is download the software and install it on your PC.

  • Speed--IM spreads messages quickly. Instant messaging applications spread a message quickly to employees when e-mail is not an option. Take the recent ILOVEYOU virus, for example. Consider the resource savings if your IT staff had a way of sending an instant warning to employees.

  • Communicate long distances--IM can reduce long-distance phone bills by allowing employees to communicate in real time, just as they would on a telephone. Several IM services provide voice as well as text messaging.

  • Improve communication--IM has the potential to improve communication in your company by allowing employees to communicate in real time using their computers.

  • It works when e-mail is down--If your e-mail server is taken offline for maintenance, IM will still allow you to communicate.

  • It's instant--As long as the service is running on a PC, IM is real time. AIM 4.0 and ICQ 2000 include voice messaging that lets you talk in real time, as you would on a telephone.

  • Help the help desk--Instant messaging can be used in a support environment to immediately report problems. Support staff can walk you through a problem without spending money on long distance phone calls and without using e-mail.

  • Low hardware requirement--The hardware needed to run IM will not break your bank. For instance, ICQ requires just a 66-MHz 486-DX2 PC with 8 MB of RAM. Most simple text messaging works well over a 56-Kbps modem.

In addition, IM lets you communicate with people in remote locations, and can help you roll out large-scale applications. IM is also customer oriented--no longer does your Web site have to be self-serve for your customers. Your staff can communicate with customers, making your site more consumer-friendly. Some e-commerce businesses are using IM to answer the questions of potential customers in real time. This allows customers who only have one phone line to get the information they need without having to disconnect from their session to make a phone call.

Support Staff Scenario

Let's say that another wide-scale virus attack, such as the I Love You virus, takes place throughout the world. As an administrator, you will be forced to take your Exchange Server offline as soon as you are aware of the problem. If your Exchange Server is your only form of communication, you'll be completely crippled from a communication standpoint. Sure, there are telephones and faxes, but using them can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process. If you have a procedure in place using IM, you can still disseminate important information to key personnel quickly using distribution lists. You can keep them abreast of the progress in fighting off the attack. When the system is brought online after successful implementation of a fix, you can use IM to spread the word quickly.


Currently, there is no standard for IM services, which prevents users who have different IM services from communicating with each other. However, on July 25, 2000 a group of vendors, including AT&T, Excite@Home Corp., iCAST Corp., Microsoft's MSN, Odigo Inc., Phone.com Inc., Prodigy Communications L.P., Tribal Voice, a CMGI Co., and Yahoo, announced the formation of IMUnified. This is a coalition aimed at bringing interoperability to instant messaging services.

Missing from the coalition is America Online. AOL has the biggest market share of IM users and has been accused of monopolistic behavior. With 120 million users of its AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ products, AOL accounts for 90% of the instant messaging market, sending nearly one billion messages per day.

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