Until now it's been tough for IT managers to build a business case for instant messaging. What might help change attitudes is having the technology embedded in applications so it can become a useful productivity tool.
Microsoft, like other makers of IM clients such as IBM and Yahoo Inc., has promoted the idea of integrating presence with applications. Today, to further that goal, Microsoft will release Presence Controls for Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, a tool for developers. Office Communicator 2005 is the client for Microsoft's Office Live Communications Server, which integrates applications and Microsoft's telephony infrastructure.
With Presence Controls, a developer might use the technology in a trouble-ticket application, for example. The user interface would display the presence icon of all people dealing with a particular trouble ticket. The presence control would then allow a user to see the availability of those team members to help that user determine the type of interaction they wish, such as IM, phone, e-mail or something else, said Ed Simnett, lead product manager for real-time communication at Microsoft.
More code on the way
As part of the release, Microsoft also makes available its Role Agent Sample, which is sample code for developers who want to assign users a "role name" so a group of people who share a role can receive relevant IM sessions.
In a few weeks, Microsoft also plans to deliver a Custom Alerting Application Sample that lets a developer send a custom instant message to an Active Directory group. "Rather than forcing someone to create a buddy list, you can create a group and send an alert to those people, such as a group of people in a particular building," Simnett said.
Analysts agree that the ability to embed presence in applications makes a better business case to sell IM to corporate executives. "In a Siebel [Systems] application, if an account has a problem, it would be nice to have the presence of the account team," said Mike Gotta, a principal analyst at Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah-based consulting firm. "The fact that you can automate and pre-populate the team [in the application] makes it valuable. You don't have to manually put in all those names."
Too much of a good thing
Now that application developers have access to presence controls, there have to be some policy guidelines about how to build effective communication-based applications, Gotta said. That's because there is the potential to overuse the technology.
"Some people may not want to be pinged by someone they don't know," he said. "There are some etiquette and user interface and communications techniques that developers have to define for the presence enablement of applications."
Gotta also suggested that companies consider their overall real-time communication strategy before starting the presence enablement of applications. What they do with applications will impact what happens with instant messaging, Web conferencing and voice over IP.
"You may be an Exchange shop but looking at other vendors for IP telephony and presence," he said. "You have to see what the bigger architectural picture is going on. You may be making an application decision that results in an infrastructure commitment."