Instant Messaging in the Workplace
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The paper is about the role and problems of instant messaging (IM) in the workplace. With the apparent recognition of IM and its role in business daily management, there are significant attentions on the further development of the information technology. The paper describes that tendencies of IM use in the workplace differs with IM use in the public context.
The use of IM in the workplace is identical to swift and effective communication, while the social use of IM is about long conversations. Users have discovered several issues that hinder the development of IM in the workplace. Most of these issues are related to security measures, but furthermore, issues that originated from the willingness to improve current features of IM practices are also prevalent.
Instant Messaging in the Workplace
Information and communication technology has often been mentioned as the new strategic tool of enhancing competitive advantage today. It offers to increase efficiency and effectiveness of corporate operations and process by enhancing coordination between components of companies. To deploy successful integration between information technology and corporate operations however, is not as easy as it sounds. Many tried and failed due to various reasons. Some managers even accepted the fact that continued operating without a high-tech information system is the best choice for the company because the calculated benefits are not as great as the cost and difficulties in implementing the system.
Nevertheless, most managers of large companies and multinationals cannot afford to surrender to that sentiment because of their jobs involve high level of complication in managing and distributing information to vast working networks. Designing a good and supportive ICT system is the challenge faced by most managers in modern companies today.
The shape and implementation of ICT however, comes in a variety of ways. It involves facilitating information storage and distribution to numerous stations within organizations. The easiest one to define is perhaps the instant messaging system. This type of ICT is considered one of the simplest implementation of ICT in the workplace, but has considerably large benefits for many companies. In some companies, instant messaging has become an integral part of corporate operations that these organizations will cripple without them.
In this paper, I am discussing the prevalence and the workings of instant messaging in modern companies today. The core discussion is about the issues, challenges and discovered solutions in relation to the application of instant messaging that support corporate operations.
II. Instant Messaging: Definition and Description
Instant messaging is not email. Although e-mailing sometimes include the activities of instant messaging. Unlike electronic letters, instant messaging requires the presence of a client program that is connected to an instant messaging service. It provides real time connectivity between parties involved. The system allows people to see who is available on the instant messaging network and who is not. They could then choose to interact with one or more people from private or public connections. Real time connectivity is the main characteristic and the core feature of instant messaging.
II.1. What Constitutes Instant Messaging
There are various instant messaging services in the internet, for example, Yahoo! Messenger, NET Messenger Service, AOL Instant Messenger , Excite/Pal, etc. These services include various services. Some of those services are:
Sending notes back and forth with an online friend or many
Chat is a system that allows people to connect personally or with multiple people at once in a real time manner.
Using web links we can share favorite links to our favorite websites
Images, sounds and files
This includes playing videos or transferring sounds to colleagues and sending files to them
Talk and streaming content
We can talk with online friends and read a real time or near real time quotes and news.
II.2. Models of Instant Messaging System and how they Work
There are several models of popular instant messaging services. They are:
ICQ is shorthand of ‘I seek you’. It is a real time communication that utilizes a software application to manage the connection. It was among the first available instant messaging program in the internet.
Available at http://www.howstuffworks.com/instant-messaging.htm
The programs functions as a client which connect users to the ICQ server. The server would then provide users with their contact list, which the names of the people we have register in the system and whether they are online or not. It sends information to each of the account in the contact list, and if one or more of them replied, then their status changed from offline to online. If we decide to engage one of the contacts, our messages will be delivered in the form of a ‘mail’. We will also receive the responses in the same manner (Tyson, 2007).
· AIM system
The popularity of ICQ caused many companies and internet providers to gain interest in its potentials. AOL was recorded to be one of the most popular instant messaging services. The reason of the popularity is the extra feature of the AOL instant messenger (AIM) that allows AOL members to communicate with non members. AOL enhanced the system to include web links and other services (Tyson, 2007).
Available at http://www.howstuffworks.com/instant-messaging.htm
After these two instant messaging services gain tremendous development in market share, there are several other instant messaging services that come into the industry. Some of them are MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. This new generation if instant messaging brought new features that soon adopted by other sin the industry. Today, people can talk to their contact just as using the telephone. Some instant messenger services are gaining more popularity than others, like the Yahoo! Messenger, who provides better integration with other Yahoo! Content and services (Tyson, 2007).
Available at http://www.howstuffworks.com/instant-messaging.htm
III. The Role of Instant Messaging in the Workplace
Since 2001, at least 21% of organizations in the world are using instant messaging. The number had obviously risen since. A survey in 2001 indicated that while only 21% are using instant messaging, 40% was seriously considering to use it, 11% will use it in a in short amount of time, and only 28% are not considering to use the instant messaging in their businesses. The survey indicated that there are similar supports upon the use of instant messaging services in the workplace between small and large companies. The most popular instant messaging services are AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger and then Yahoo! Messenger (Osterman, 2001).
The core benefits of instant messaging is the fact that it offers real time communication and easy collaboration, which is considered more valuable that the general e-mail concept. Nevertheless, there are always a strong question in the minds of business analysts: ‘why cant we simply use the phone?’. The general opinion would consider the telephone as a better alternative. It would take longer for managers to have a long conversation through IM compare to the telephone. Furthermore, there is less interaction in IM compare to telephone, because the original IM eliminates sounds as a medium of expression when communicating. Observers however, elaborated several reasons for IM’s prevalence upon the telephone (Brennan, 1996. Connel, 2001).
IM is significantly better than the telephone in conferencing activities. IM is a better way to accommodates multiple communicators in a single conversation. Using the phone, there might be the issue of hassling talks while making a conferencing conversation. Furthermore, the IM cost the same whether the users are conferencing in local areas or internationally, while the phone costs significantly larger (Bird, 2003).
Another benefit of the IM compare to the telephones is its ‘less intrusive’ nature. Using IM, users do not have to fear that they are bothering people that do not want to be disturbed. Once a user logs into the IM service, it is a sign that he/she is willing to engage in communication with available contacts. If users feel less willing to engage, he/she can simply log-off and withdraw from a conversation. In addition, some have also mentioned that using IM in business organization, people are less willing to make ‘chitchat’ because they would have to take the trouble to write their conversations. Generally, corporate users of IM use IM as a working tool and less a social tool (Bird, 2003).
IV. Issues and Solutions Regarding Instant Messaging
IV.1. Characteristics of IM use
IV.1.1. IM Management Systems
IM management product allows companies to manage the use of public IM systems within the organization. It allows member of the organization to communicate to each other and more. Activities like transferring files and reviewing conversations are available on most of today’s IM services. However, managing the use of IM is not as easy as it might sound. Some companies are concern how to ensure that IM is being used for business purposes rather than leisure. Managers are concerned by the fat that IM has a considerable potential to be a distraction to the real work. Just like telephone calls, managers are concern on how to prevent employees to spend countless hours messaging their friends instead of doing real work (Bird, 2003).
IV.1.2 Tendencies of IM Use
Several researches stated that there are certain tendencies of using the instant messaging in the workplace. Previous researches indicated that the IM is used in the workplace especially for rapid single purpose exchanges, scheduling and socializing. Newer researches however, indicated that IM in the workplace is used more than business communication tool, but also for extended work discussions among workplace users. Only a small portion of the discussions on IM turned to personal discussions (Isaacs, 2002).
The research also indicated that IM conversations are usually quick, because multitasking and media switching are prevalent. This means that IM is used when simple conversation is sufficient to deliver the important information. However, when the discussions become more intense and meaningful, people generally switch media and using a more personal tool like telephone of face-to-face encounters. The use of IM in the workplace is identical to multitasking, in the sense that people in the workplace generally use IM when they are doing something else in the same time (Isaacs, 2002).
Researchers discovered that there are two different styles of using the instant messaging. The first style is called ‘working together’. In this format, people in the workplace use the IM for various collaborative activities. Some of these activities are multiple discussions, scheduling activities, and discussing complex matters. In the working together format, conversations are more intense and include numerous messages in short period of time. The working together format also contains many interruptions and extended conversations. Under this format, people in the workplace use a slower paced conversation or faster according to the activities they are doing (Isaacs, 2002).
On the other hand, people in the workplace also use IM in the format of coordinating. Coordinating is generally a preliminary IM interaction prior to the actual discussion. The coordinating format occurs when people in the workplace are messaging their colleagues to confirm dates or times of conferencing activities. This type of IM conversation is the one generally performed while performing other tasks (multitasking). The discussions are less intense and there are less or no interruptions. Most IM interactions are coordinating activities to confirm schedules or events (Isaacs, 2002).
IM in the workplace is significantly different compare to IM outside the workplace. In the workplace, IM are used by fully grown working people who generally have better things to do than socializing through IM, although the practice is sometimes apparent in several companies. Outside the workplace, IM are generally used by younger people who socialize by means of the communication advancement. Therefore, researches indicated that IM conversations outside the workplace are generally longer and much more personal compare to IM in the workplace. In the workplace, IM conversations are generally coordinative and swift (Isaacs, 2002).
IV.2. Challenges Facing IM
Despite the roles and benefits of the system, instant messaging also possesses several challenges that must gain managerial attentions. Some apparent ones are elaborated within this sub-chapter.
IV.2.1. Security Considerations
This is the first and most prevalent problem of IM in the workplace. The public use of IM might not have the same concern because there are no sensitive and high-value information involved within the conversation. Thus, security measurements are important in IM use. For instance, someone could steal the identity of a user and participating in corporate meetings via IM as someone else. The majority of IM systems have a ‘public’ nature and this generate the possibility that someone could gain access to username or password for an IM account (Bird, 2003). Below is the list of security problems that must be aid attention to:
IM clients are vulnerable to several security threats like bothering notifications and nuisances that slows down productivity, access to unauthorized data, host compromise and loss of data integrity.
Insecure Network Traffic
The practice of IM can generate security threats to secure network environments. This is true because all the protection software like firewall, IDS/IPS, content filtering and antivirus that suppose to block viruses and other security threats are perforated by IM activities.
In the process of transferring files or file sharing activities, the IM clients reveals the true IP address of the users. Using this information, a hacker could use the address as a target for service attack of other malicious actions.
As mentioned previously, identity theft is one of the most prevalent issue when it comes to IM activities. Identity theft is highly possible because IM clients seldom use encryption for transmission of login credentials.
With some IM clients, data theft is possible by using the IM clients to transfer binary data like development source code to external users without reporting to the internal security. This is possible because some IM providers have a poor coordination of file sharing services.
There are no guarantee that the message we receive through IM services is the genuinely the person we know. On the other hand, there are also no sufficient guarantees that the message recipient is what they claim to be. If a en employee is communicating with someone from the competitor’s office, there is no way to track the actual person that engage in the network with us.
IM is an informal communication tools that could lead people to build the sense of trust to one another. Therefore, there are potentials that users might be tricked down to compromising the security of their own system.
In order to deal with these security considerations, Some IM systems add an extra component that supported security measurements to IM applications. This additional component allowed secure authentication systems and even encrypting IM messages as they are sent back and forth to the users. Another method of securing IM messages is by routing the messages in such a way that eavesdropping are impossible to perform.
IV.2.2. IM Standards
Despite tremendous acceptance of the product, there are still no standards of how different IM tools communicate to one another. This problem constitutes the fact that users must choose between networks. This is generally not an issue of IM providers, however, for corporate users, inability to connect one IM tool to another might sometime becomes a problem. The lack of ability to communicate with all providers leads to limitation in reaching consumers and business partners (Bird, 2003).
There are several apparent discussions on the necessity to have a global standard in operating IM. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has been promoting the discussion for some time now. One way to deal with the problem is by producing IM clients that are willing to act as a front to different networks. This initiative produces products like the Trilian Pro, which allows us to connect to ICQ, AIM, MSN Messenger, etc. The product did not allow different members of IM services to communicate with each other, but providing a single interface in which all the contacts of the providers are displayed together. When a user whishes to connect to users of a different service, they have apply to the network as usual. However, with a single and unified interface, it is easier to spot a friend or familiar contact in different networks (Bird, 2003).
The lack of cooperation between IM providers is a larger issue that most have acknowledged. Tired of the fighting between IM providers, several of the largest financial services companies in the world like Deustche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Merryl Lynch stated that they are looking to the IETF to produce a standard that would generate some uniformity in the IM market. The current result of this resolution is the creation of the SIP and SIMPLE protocols. Despite being adopted by several of the largest IM vendors on the globe, there are no apparent signals that the protocols will be implemented as a global IM operational standard (Bird, 2003).
Instant messaging has been around for some times now. In the business environment, the roles of instant messaging have gained recognition from various types of small and large corporations. Research indicated that the use of instant messaging will increase throughout the decade. The first instrument of instant messaging was the ICQ, but today, there are various providers of the system and their features have been enhanced also. The popularity of the communication technology comes from its real-time feature and its less intrusive form of communication (compare to the telephone).
In the workplace, the use of IM as a business communication tool is different with the use of IM as a socialization tool. In the workplace, there are two formats of IM use, which are the working together format and the coordinative format. The second is more prevalent than the first.
Despite the benefits and the widespread application of the technology however, there are also various issues that requires the attention of both providers and users of the communication technology. The first and most prevalent issue is security. There are numerous concerns in the practice of IM in the workplace. There are little ways to be sure that the person we are connecting to is the person he/she claimed to be. In the business realm, where confidentiality is a part of daily operations, security measures are crucial. Therefore, security issues in the use of IM is a huge problem
The second problem is the global application of IM. In order to enable companies to gain connections with partners and customers everywhere, there must be a way to connect different IM provider. Efforts have been performed and the latest tool of unification (SIP and SIMPLE protocol) still has not gain much acceptance from the wide community of IM providers.
There are actually solutions to the security problem of the IM application in the workplace. Reviewing conversations and encrypting messages are some of those solutions. On the other hand, there is still no apparent solution for the cross-provider communication issue. The latest attempt to address the problem is by creating an program with the capability of unifying the providers into a single interface and allowing users to jump from one provider into another.
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