It’s no secret that instant messaging (IM) is being used in numerous organizations without the sanction of the IT department. Many business employees make liberal use of IM (for personal as well as business communications). However, the results of a recent NetAdmin Republic survey on IM use show that administrators may still be a bit naive about employee use of IM on their networks. Our survey also revealed how many companies are using internal IM services, some of the methods administrators are using to enhance IM security, and more.

The use of IM
The first thing we asked administrators was what they believed to be the percentage of employees who are taking advantage of IM. Over 60 percent of respondents believed that only 0 to 25 percent of employees are currently using IM, as shown in Figure A. And about 25 percent of admins polled believed that 50 percent or more of their workers were using IM.

Figure A

These responses appear to be a little naïve—in other words, there may be a lot more IM use going on than administrators realize. In a report from September 2002 called “Enterprise Use of Consumer IM: Get a Handle on It,” Gartner approximated that over 50 percent of U.S. businesses have employees who are using public IM services. That doesn’t even count the companies that are hosting their own internal IM solutions (more on that in minute).

In its report, Gartner also stated that they were not implying that over 50 percent of business employees were using IM services. However, they did assert their belief that many and numerous pockets of IM use exist in a lot of companies—and in large companies this can add up to thousands of unauthorized IM users. As a result, Gartner recommended that business look at migrating IM users to an internal IM solution.

In our survey, we also asked administrators if their company offered an internal IM solution, and as you can see in Figure B, nearly 30 percent responded that they either currently offered such a solution or were in the process of implementing one.

Figure B

Since 70 percent of administrators said their company was not using (or planning to deploy) an internal IM solution, we also asked them which was the predominant IM service currently used by employees. Figure C shows that MSN Messenger was named as the business IM leader.

Figure C

Benefits of IM
Although many administrators view IM suspiciously because of the clandestine way in which it is used and can introduce unknown variables into a network, we also asked them what they viewed as the best business benefit of IM. Traditional text messaging was the clear leader, but remote assistance/support and group conferencing are beginning to get some attention as well (Figure D).

Figure D

IM management
In its 2002 report, Gartner also asserted its belief that less than 1 percent of businesses were actively managing IM technologies on their networks. In our survey, we asked administrators to report the measures they were using to secure and manage IM (Figure E).

Figure E

As you can see, most of the measures administrators selected were general IT security and management procedures (e.g., desktop antivirus, desktop firewalls, and application control on network firewalls). Nevertheless, nearly 20 percent of respondents reported that their company has an IM usage policy. This may indicate that many IT professionals are beginning to realize the need for taking control of the IM situation and are taking steps to regulate it.

However, these results also show that many administrators may still be in the dark about the use of IM and the need of IT to specifically manage it in the same way they do e-mail and other technology services. Unapproved IM use thus imperils end-user technology satisfaction, network security, and bandwidth utilization.