Instant messaging is the fastest-growing communications medium of all time, according to a September study from the Radicati Group (Palo Alto, Calif.). IM is spreading like wildfire in the business world because of its ability to provide real-time communications, the market research firm says. The study shows strong growth in IM use worldwide, with the number of IM accounts growing from 995 million in 2006 to more than 1.6 billion by 2010. The number of IM users also is expected to grow from 432 million in 2006 to 650 million in 2010, Radicati reports.
One of the biggest questions surrounding business use of IM is whether to host your own service or use public IM services, such as AOL Instant Messenger, says Matt Tucker, chief technology officer of Portland, Ore.-based IM and collaborative software provider Jive Software. "From a security perspective, avoiding use of public networks whenever possible is a good idea," he says.
Financial institutions should encrypt any business-related IMs, and public IM networks are not encrypted, Tucker explains. Public networks also are more susceptible to viruses and spam, which are not as prevalent on IM as with e-mail, but are something to look out for, he adds.
Instant messages do need to be archived and are subject to the same archiving requirements as e-mails, Tucker points out, adding that financial institutions should set up policies to govern IM use that address what needs to be archived and who is allowed to talk to whom. "Make sure the right ethical walls are in place," he says.
To deal with the challenge, like other organizations, Woodsville, N.H.-based Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank has decided simply to restrict use of any IM systems for its employees. Although the bank does not have an automated method for blocking IMs, restricting the service is part of the bank's policies and procedures, relates Bob Miller, VP of information systems for the bank. In the past, the bank has had to remove IMs from a few employees' desktops, he says. --N.F.