Instant messaging has not taken off in the enterprise as have other communication tools, such as e-mail. At one time, IBM quoted that Sametime had around 20 million seats and Microsoft has said that it has around 10 million seats of Enterprise IM deployed. This number might be off a little - but compared to e-mail for instance - deployment of enterprise IM has been disappointing given that the technology has been around for about a decade.
So it begs the question - why hasn't IM been more broadly deployed across the enterprise?
One of the older reasons I used to hear from clients years ago was the question of "need" - e-mail was already deployed, and e-mail messages arrived in "near time", so what was the extra value (i.e., ROI) of having IM as another communication option? I haven't head that reason as much in recent years, but it was a fairly common refrain at one time.
Other clients I talked to discussed the hidden up-front costs associated with IM related to security and compliance. While security and compliance issues clearly apply to e-mail as well - in many instances, e-mail had already been deployed across the enterprise. With IM, these issues added to the criteria strategists had to include before they made initial the go/no-go decision. (Again, we're back to cost/benefit analysis and ROI factors.)
More recently, enterprise IM has become part of a broader discussion on unified communications (UC). The reason that IM was not viewed as a necessity for some organization was the fact that it was so disconnected from other communication tools. As an integrated component within a UC platform, it was thought that enterprise IM would finally become a reality.
While enterprise IM has made headway, you still can't but wonder why there is so little excitement around that type of interaction model to improve communication, information sharing and collaboration?
Identifying some of blocking factors (e.g., business case, ROI, security, compliance, integration with UC) are pieces of the puzzle. However, I now believe that the most compelling reason why enterprise IM, has not taken off as expected can be traced to Twitter, and how it has gained widespread popularity. We are now seeing “Twitter clones" (sometimes called micro-blogging or social messaging) targeting the enterprise and it would not surprise me if these tools outpace enterprise IM adoption over the next 3-5 years.
Enterprise IM is not very social - at all (thus the "bowling alone" metaphor). You have a “buddy list” that sits on your desktop for most of the day, and on many days, nothing much at all happens. You see people's presence indicator change from green to yellow to red, or you see their status message change - and maybe if you're lucky someone will actually IM you, or you might IM them. However, for the most part, IM serves a very functional purpose – you use it when you need to contact someone. O f course, there are exceptions - IBM has demonstrated how IM can be used for large-scale jam sessions. A company Microsoft acquired (Parlano) had a nice application for persistent group chat (now a component within OCS R2), that was popular in the financial sector. Still, those situations are the exception and not the rule for most organizations.
I will not go as far as to say that enterprise IM is dead. In fact, for direct real-time communication it will continue to serve a very valuable service. Enterprise IM should be viewed as a functional component with UC platforms. That is a very good trend - people's IM experience will benefit from the richer type of telephony, conferencing, and presence integration found within UC platforms.
Enterprise versions of Twitter are not going to eliminate the need for IM and UC platforms (or e-mail for that matter). Micro-blogging/social messaging tools do however fulfill a user need that enterprise IM/UC platform providers have chosen to ignore, or to support poorly. If Twitter has demonstrated anything, it’s that people enjoy a more openly social and communal experience. As I outlined in an earlier post, UC And Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0, social messaging tools actually augment UC platforms and UC platforms have good reasons to integrate with social messaging tools.
I wonder why UC vendors have been so slow to recognize this trend. To me, the synergies and gaps are obvious. Yet, UC providers have been laggards when it comes to this emerging space (micro-blogging/social messaging). IBM's Lotus Connections team is implementing something close to Twitter in an upcoming release (one might argue that it is closer to activity streams/FriendFeed than Twitter) - but still - at least it's in the ballpark. But IBM's Sametime team still is trying to figure out the different between IM/UC integration and micro-blogging/social messaging/activity streams as indicated by this recent post, Are you confused about how Sametime relates to Connections?.
That inability to sense and respond to market inflections from unexpected sources is one of the problems dominant vendors always seem to have. When vendors and product teams are locked into their solution so deeply that they cannot pivot and attack their own assumptions (sometimes because the disruption is not understood clearly), they miss an opportunity to respond and innovate. In this case, the source of innovation came from another IBM team (Connections). But customers will want capabilities being delivered by the Connections team to expand over time and if the two teams fail to coordinate roles and responsibilities, overlaps might be difficult to explain.
But IBM is no different than other vendors. Who will deliver micro-blogging/social messaging from Microsoft? The OCS team or the SharePoint team? Will Cisco try to extend its own UC platform anchored around SIP/SIMPLE to address micro-blogging/social messaging or will it push the reset button and acquire/build a tool that more closely mimics a Twitter or FriendFeed model? Vendors that become so enamored with their own products and fail to follow where customers lead them might also find themselves - well - bowling alone.