Analysts predict Instant Messaging (IM) – real-time text communication through the Internet – will soon be as commonplace in the business world as e-mail. According to an article in Insurance Networking News (October 2005), a recent survey showed, “Nearly half of the 1,000 organizations surveyed ( 19 percent of which are in the insurance industry ) allow employees to use instant messaging, nearly 20 percent more than 18 months ago.” But “its popularity among insurance companies is tempered with considerable caution,” the article states.

Why? Compliance and security.

One issue raised for blocking IM is compliance with Sarbanes Oxley regulations. The article does not explain why.

And the other issue raised is privacy and concern for private information being shared. The concern is instant messaging is not secure. OK, but neither is telephone traffic, to the best of my knowledge. The article mentions one company which mandates the use of e-mail. Well, that certainly isn’t secure either.

We, as a company, have used instant messaging with a number of projects. It is extremely helpful in terms of logistics — setting up meetings, organizing who is doing what, allowing side conversations during conference calls. Like any tool, when used responsibly, IM helps to improve and speed the communications flow and build relationship, like IM’ing a cheery “Good morning!” to a client when you both boot-up to start the day.

Have you noticed that nobody answers the phone anymore in insurance companies. It’s kind of a joke anymore — people hide behind voice mail — especially at insurance companies. Instant messaging is a good work around. People can give a quick answer like “on the phone” or “hang on”, or they can begin the chat and even manage multiple sessions at the same time. And at the end of the session, copy and paste the contents of the session to a storage facility. To me, that’s a heck of a lot easier than being on the phone with one person at a time while your voicemail inbox fills up with people expecting a call back.

For insurance companies to seemingly dismiss IM out of hand seems to be a bit short-sighted. My recommendation? If you are tasked with making a decision on IM, start using it right now, use it for a month or two, then make a decision based on personal experience as well as other data-points. My IM preference is GAIM. My network admin. says it’s the best IM client on the market from a network security standpoint.