Instant messaging software is still evolving, so it's important to remain flexible and informed.
The jury is still out on how IM will evolve. Some say it will remain a stand-alone application, while others expect it to merge with other communications tools. This is already happening with products such as WiredRed Software's e/pop suite and IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing, both of which combine IM and Web conferencing. Several analysts predict that by the end of the decade, e-mail and VoIP will also be bundled together to create a complete set of electronic communication applications on a single platform.
"The communications platform of the future will be a seamlessly integrated system that all employees can use that incorporates IM, Web conferencing, telephony, e-mail and collaboration software," says Yankee's Ritter. "That's the endgame." Basically, imagine an application that allows you to archive, and file, all of your voice-mail messages, e-mails, IM conversations, and even your telephone conversations, all in one place, while also providing the ability to do live Web conferencing and scheduling.
At the same time, companies such as Reuters Group plc and the Kellogg Co. have begun using bots to provide automated customer service and human resources information. Botsautomated computer programscan reply over IM and act as a virtual help desk, providing information on request, in real time. Comcast Cable Communi-cation Inc.'s "Ask Comcast" feature, for example, allows high-speed Internet subscribers visiting their online support page to ask a question and receive an automated response. If a question is asked for which there is no automated response, the customer is immediately transferred to a live customer-service rep, who can answer the question. Think of it as an IM FAQ.
Analysts also say that IM will be the catalyst for "presence awareness," which will allow employees to see on their computer screens where their coworkers are located and how best to contact them there. This, say analysts, is one of the largest benefits of improving your IM capabilities, because it can ease collaboration, which speeds up workflow. IM and presence awareness will also be incorporated into the company's largest functions, such as CRM and the supply chain, to give employees the ability to solve problems and bottlenecks in real time. Bushman of Rochester Public Utilities says his company is testing how presence awareness can help operations. IM, he expects, will "continue to roll itself into everything we do."
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