Instant Messaging @ Work - Management
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Instant Messaging @ Work

Written By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 06-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.


Could IM be your next CRM tool?

If you want to speed up communication and offer additional ways for your customers to reach you, instant messaging (IM) may be the answer. IM, text messaging, BlackBerry devices and push-to-talk technology on cell phones provide instant access to employees and customers, increasing productivity and improving customer service.

R U Sure It’s Ok 4 Work?

IM is a global phenomenon – more than 300 million people use it, and it’s fast becoming more popular than e-mail. Every day, more than 12 billion IMs are sent globally, according to AOL.

And despite its status as a teenager’s preferred method of communication, IM has quickly caught on in business. Companies throughout the United States are using IM to communicate with customers.

In addition, being able to reach an employee instantly – whether that person is telecommuting or traveling to a service call – can be very valuable. With IM, the employee can be connected to the office or parts department at the push of a button.

According to the Third Annual Instant Messaging Trends Study conducted by AOL in 2005, 58 percent of the 4,000-plus respondents reported sending IMs to colleagues to communicate. Forty-nine percent sent IMs to get answers and make business decisions, and 28 percent used IM to communicate with customers.

One reason for the increase in popularity is that it’s a cross between a phone conversation and e-mail. IM users can hold real-time conversations involving multiple people, without the hassles of voicemail and conference calls. IM (via computer) requires both parties to be logged onto their IM service at the same time. With mobile IM, users can wirelessly chat from anywhere.

BlackBerry devices also have IM capabilities, and cell phones offer the ability to text message. Text messages and IM are virtually the same, except text messages are typically sent from cell phones or handhelds via Short Message Service.

"IM appeals to users’ desires for fast, real time chat," says Nancy Flynn, author of "Instant Messaging Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policies, Security and Legal Issues For Safe IM Communication."

"Many business users," says Flynn, "feel that IM delivers a necessary competitive advantage that e-mail and the telephone just can’t match: speed."

In a 2005 survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group, companies were surveyed on five categories: text messaging in the field; plugging into customers wired or wireless networks; WIFI hotspots in public locations; tethering cell phones to laptops; and real-time data connectivity in the field on a wide-area wireless data network.

The survey found 63 percent of respondents were using IM in the field, with another 15 percent planning to start using it within 18 months. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed plug into customer’s wired or wireless networks and another 15 percent plan to start. In addition, 37 percent report using real-time data connectivity in the field on a wide-area wireless data network and 44 percent intend to begin using the WAN network in the future.

At the recent Field Service 2006 Conference in Carlsbad, Ca., BlackBerry presented an automated Field Service solution for its handheld device. According to the company, its wireless Field Service applications allow a service technician to better meet the needs of the organization and feature on-the-spot billing and credit card information transfer, inventory look-ups and more.

According to BlackBerry, dealers who use this type of solution can:

  • Improve dispatch scheduling of field technicians with visibility into their geographic location and job status 
  • Reduce service cycle times 
  • Update back-end field service systems in real-time (i.e. close tickets, job status)
  • Identify and resolve customer service issues faster
  • Act decisively with immediate access to information 
  • Respond to customer situations with the most up-to-date information
  • Raise first-time fix rates and improve inventory management
In addition, with the BlackBerry solution or IM, dealers can enhance customer service, reduce time spent waiting on return calls, improve productivity and save money. IM saves companies money by limiting long distance calls and allowing more people to participate in a real-time conversation, reducing travel expenses.

Further, IM can do anything e-mail can, which means text, images and files can all be transferred.

IMers B Ware

However, all of these positives should be considered in light of negatives that range from security breaches to retention nightmares to content challenges.

According to an article on Entreprenuer.com, a study conducted by the Imlogic Threat Center found the number of IM attacks, which included viruses, worms and phishing scams, has risen from 20 in 2004 to 571 in the second quarter of 2005 alone. As with many e-mail viruses, worms and spyware, IM attacks can steal confidential information and do other significant damage.

What happens when an employee sends an IM from a company computer? Unlike corporate e-mail systems, Flynn says, "consumer grade IM moves outside the organization's firewall, across public networks, and through servers controlled by AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft, making business information vulnerable to malicious hackers, cyberthieves and eavesdroppers. Instant messaging security challenges stem from the fact that the majority of corporate use takes place across public networks, which lack built-in safeguards against Trojan horses, worms, viruses and other destructive and malicious intruders."

Security challenges include:

  • Employees who view e-mail as a tool for casual conversation will likely view IM in the same way, creating liability risks.
  • Security breaches are a definite concern. The lack of encryption in personal IM tools may open up the company to potentially serious viruses, worms and Trojan horses. IM attachments can also create concern, as these attachments are not checked with your anti-virus software.
  • Unlike e-mail, it's important to have the same network when IMing from your computer. And when you do have the same service, you can only communicate with people on your "buddy" list.
  • Monitoring and retention headaches can result because IM creates business records that must be retained for legal and regulatory purposes. Using an enterprise IM system, it's easy to track, but when you allow employees to use personal IM software you have to have the technology in place to monitor the messages.
  • IM can create a false sense of security regarding retention. Because an IM vanishes after it's read and the window closes, employees might think the message is gone for good. In reality, the message-archiving function of the public networks used by many IMers allow users to log and archive IM conversations without the other party's consent.
  • Like e-mail, IM may make it easy to send information quickly but it's not always the best route to a quick reply.
  • The inappropriate use of unprofessional names and appropriation of corporate names by non- or ex-employees poses risks. Some industry insiders consider this one the largest challenges facing businesses.
Heads Or Tails?

What's a dealer to do? Flynn advises the following for IMing: ban it completely, install in-house software to replace personal-use software; support employees' personal use of IM with technology that controls content, retains business records and enhances security; or limit access to employees who really need the technology to do their jobs.

While banning it completely may seem easiest, it's not always the right choice. Employees will still try to bring in IM software, and it's easier to prevent IM-related problems than to clean them up.

If you're going to allow IMing on company computers, create a comprehensive policy that addresses e-mail and IM use. This policy should include guidelines on appropriate language and conduct, security breaches and the protection of confidential information.

"To effectively protect your organization's assets, reputation and future," says Flynn, "you must properly identify and effectively manage IM, e-mail and other business records."

Software formulated to protect your company from IM hackers should be installed and updated regularly.

The second part of this equation is notifying and educating your employees on the company's policy. In order to have 100 percent compliance, employees must understand the program. Be sure to stress the fact that these rules are mandatory and institute penalties.

"IM belongs to the employer, not the employee," says Flynn. "Clarify that the organization has the right to access and review content of any IM or e-mail that is created, stored, transmitted or received."

Finally, be prepared to produce IM evidence, should a legal issue arise. It's important to retain business-related instant messages and e-mails, and delete messages that have low-business record value or are personal.

 


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