Internet use at U.S. companies rose 20 percent from October 2001 to July 2002, according to ComScore Media Metrix Inc., a New York City tracking firm. Meanwhile, instant messaging attracted 28 percent more business users, and MSN's IM service grew an even loftier 42 percent.
The IM explosion seems certain to create opportunities selling IM-related services and products. At the top of the list are fixes for IM's weaknesses. IM's big four--America Online, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo!--are consumer services, notes Max Kalehoff, senior manager at ComScore. Because IM messages aren't coded, virus-protected, tracked or logged, companies can't protect secrets, verify communications or block viruses. Some firms sell add-on software to log employees' IM messages. But many services employ stealth technology that is hard to detect without complex software.
In-house IM systems with built-in security may be the most practical solution. Richard Bezjian, CEO and president of Boomerang Software Inc. in Belmont, Massachusetts, says financial and health companies with regulations requiring secure client-related communications have been quick to adopt his encrypted IM system. "I wouldn't say we're making money hand over fist," says Bezjian, 48. "But I think it's a matter of time."
We see similar stories in many security, marketing and other IM-based products and services. "Is there a gold mine there?" says Kalehoff. "I don't think anyone's figured it out yet. But [IM] is a communications tool that's not going away."