In an effort to meet new federal guidelines relating to electronic communications, many enterprises are on a hunt for tools that will save and track instant messaging (IM) files. Financial services firms are among the first dealing with IM archival, as the new SEC regulations directly impact their business. The “Books and Records Requirements for Brokers and Dealers Under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934” details the new regulations, which are due to take effect May 2, 2003, and are aimed at preventing certain types of information—such as “insider” information on publicly traded companies—from being used to gain illegal profits.

While no one typically embraces the addition of regulations, there is good news for IT leaders seeking requisite IM archival technology: There are plenty of products to choose from. The bad news, though, is that the decision may not be a quick one because prices and features vary widely. The key to finding the perfect IM archiving tool, according to one TechRepublic member, is examining integration issues, hardware requirements, and price before making any decision.

One member’s search
That’s exactly what Jordan M., a business analyst with an investment banking firm, discovered when he was asked to determine the best approaches for capturing and logging IM. Employees of the company had been using various IM clients for several years. Shortly before Jordan joined the company at its Chicago offices, a few consultants had proposed solutions, but none really met the firm’s needs. In particular, the company needed a reasonably priced way to archive IM into a database that would allow for easy retrieval.

Jordan began his own search for a solution by going through financial periodicals and searching the Internet. After doing some initial research on six products, he narrowed the list to three that best seemed to fit his company’s requirements. He contacted salespeople for more information on products that warranted further consideration, then looked at demos of the finalists. (One company, iOpus, provided a software download that Jordan could configure to his needs, but the others just provided “scripted” demos.)

Serious contenders
He found out about one of the first products he considered, FaceTime Communications‘ IM Auditor, through a financial periodical. This was a high-end product, with “all the bells and whistles.” Although a very robust solution, IM Auditor had some drawbacks for Jordan’s situation, including the cost of implementation, which he estimated at over $100,000. The product license covered one IM platform, and additional platforms cost up to $20,000 to implement. Another drawback was that running the program at his company would have required a stand-alone Win2K server and a stand-alone SQL 2K server.

A product from Redmind Software, Genius Archive, was also a contender for capturing and archiving the firm’s IM content. But during his evaluation, Jordan found that the product would only work with the Lotus Sametime chat program, and could only capture chats inside the network—a hindrance to traveling employees. Like FaceTime, Genius Archive would also have required a stand-alone server and on-site setup by the vendor. On the plus side, “the total cost for implementation would have been less than $10,000,” according to Jordan.

The winner
Jordan’s company finally selected Starr Pro Edition from iOpus Software. The software is more than just an IM manager. In fact, Jordan first discovered it through a Google search on “spyware.” Although the program can record everything that occurs on a PC, his company’s installation is configured only to capture chat information. “What’s more, the log information can be stored on a central PC, so the users do not have access to all the information,” Jordan said. Starr Pro is compatible with all the chat clients used in his company, without the need for plug-ins. Starr Pro also has the ability to produce searchable reports in several different formats, including HTML, plain text, and a raw log.

“For our situation, we needed to archive the information into a SQL Server database for archival,” Jordan said. He reports that in just a few hours, his team was able to “develop a DTS package for SQL Server that combined the individual log files into one master log file, imported the data into the SQL Server database, and formatted the data to conform to company compliance standards.” They also customized the product with a Web engine that compliance people use on demand to search for keywords, and an alert system that lets e-mail compliance officers know when a chat contains one of those keywords.

As for security considerations, Starr Pro can password-protect the log files it generates. Jordan also pointed out that “Starr Pro has the ability to change the names of all the files that are used with the program, so users cannot detect or discover what files are being used for the logging engine.” In the next release, the software will be able to run as a service, so that users won’t even be able to try to make changes or turn off the system.

So far, Jordan has been very happy with his choice. He found iOpus helpful during the implementation whenever a question came up that wasn’t found in the FAQ. iOpus also provided a 10-user trial license for beta testing. When he let the vendor know about a problem he found while importing into the CSV format, Jordan was pleased that “within a week, the company released a new version of the product that eliminated the bug.” He also noted that Starr Pro was “very easy to deploy across the network, which was pivotal to us since we have branch offices located throughout the country.” Perhaps best of all, the price was right. For his 400-plus users, “the entire implementation of this product will cost the company less than $5,000… so it breaks down to less than $15 per license.”

Tips for choosing a product
Based on his experience in selecting and implementing an IM archiving solution, Jordan had these tips for others going through the process:

  • Make your IT staff part of the project, rather than allowing management to make all the decisions.
  • Also make sure that your corporate compliance officers are involved in the process, because some products—despite their great marketing—won’t really fill your company’s needs. For example, one of the products Jordan evaluated wouldn’t capture external chats, which was his compliance officers’ biggest concern.
  • It may be cheaper to buy a less-expensive product and customize it, with additional development done by either your in-house IT staff or by a trusted consultant. “If you use a consultant,” Jordan added, “make sure your specs are well thought out prior to contacting the consulting company.” You’ll save money by figuring out exactly what you need before the consultants are on the clock.
  • Watch out for salespeople working on commission, especially with the higher-end products. These people “will try to sell you everything under the sun, including features you don’t need.” Jordan also said that the high-end products charge annual maintenance fees of up to 20 percent of the initial purchase price.

Have you found a good IM archiving tool?

Jordan’s experience illustrates that finding and implementing an IM archiving solution involves not only the IT staff, but also other key colleagues, such as the compliance officer. Share your own tips for archiving IM with other TechRepublic members by joining the discussion.