IT in the Ad Biz

Mar 21 2008   8:26PM GMT

Instant Messaging vs E-Mail

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

How many of you are currently utilizing Instant Messaging as a legitimate business tool in your organizations? We’re currently planning an implementation of Microsoft’s Unified Communications system, and their IM product – Office Communicator forms the center piece of this offering, providing information about user’s presence. I’m finding that selling Instant Messaging into our organization is not going to be an easy sell, and trying to sell the Microsoft version of it makes it even tougher.

As it turns out, our latest acquisition is an office which was already utilizing Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger in their day-to-day business. They are thrilled over the fact that we are considering the adoption of a tool they are already using, and they would protest long and hard if we attempted to remove it from their systems. When I asked them why they chose the Microsoft client instead of a more popular product such as AIM, they told me that they actually preferred the fact that the Microsoft client was less widely accepted – and it actually made it easier to sell as a legitimate business tool. This new group of users is actually turning out to be my biggest ally in terms of selling it to my own company. Beyond that argument, it’s fairly easy to make the case in terms of Communicator’s enterprise level capabilities, including integration with Microsoft’s other products and the ability to control and manage it via Group Policy, but those arguments tend to get lost on either users or management.

One of the things I’ve been asked is how is IM different from e-mail, and I actually think that particular question is a very telling one. My users have a great deal of difficulty understanding why they would ever use an Instant Messaging tool for the simple reason that we’re already using e-mail in that fashion. The point they are missing is that we have been misusing e-mail over the past several years, and that e-mail has already become an IM tool in our business. The expectations surrounding e-mail have become so unreasonable that many of our users can and do use it as a chat tool. E-mail conversations routinely happen in real-time, and people actually get upset when an e-mailed question isn’t answered immediately.

I suspect that one of the first steps I need to take in selling the idea of IM to my users is to break them of their bad e-mail habits. If we don’t do that, then they are correct in that they don’t need a separate IM product. The question is how exactly do you break these current e-mail habits? It’s obviously going to take a concerted effort in terms of re-educating our users, and I fully expect that to be a real battle.

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  • Wrobinson
    You are absolutely correct. This is a user education issue. There is a grossly misguided understanding and expectancy of the intended purpose and SLA of e-mail respectively. Having said that, IM and chat have been gaining in popularity for some time and many people are probably already using it outside of the office. To say that e-mail has been misused in the absence of an alternative such as IM and chat isn't exactly fair. Chances are that once IM and chat makes its debut in your organization, users will adopt it relatively quickly for those brief and immediate real-time communications needs. When rolling out the new service, make sure there is ample communication and guidance on its proper usage, and give some examples of where it may be better suited than e-mail such as in meetings and those 'quick questions'.
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