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Time to Kill IM

Instant messaging/presence (IM/p) use for enterprise communications in the '90s was a real breakthrough -- the start of enterprise messaging and a critical incentive for replacing TDM PBX systems with VoIP-enabled, unified communications solutions. But the world has moved past IM, and now it's time for the UC industry to let it go.

UC IM dates back to the early '90s when the Internet was still new, and consumers were discovering the Internet through popular services such as America Online (AOL), Yahoo!, and Microsoft Network (MSN). This was before Skype, Facebook, and the smartphone.

The early UC suites bundled IM/p with voice. It became possible to time calls with presence and assumed availability. IM hasn't really changed much since, but the world has.

IM severely limits modern communications that involve more than two people and more than one organization. Phone numbers, fax, and emails work between organizations. While there are some examples of inter-organizational IM/p, they are exceptions. IM/p is typically the only enterprise communications tool limited to internal conversations.

Interoperable IM/p has been a goal for many years. NextPlane, with UC federation, offers a standalone, billable service for IM/p interoperability -- a good solution for companies that wish to extend IM/p to specific business partners. But native integrations remain elusive.

The SIP folks tried to expand into IM with SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leverage Extensions (SIMPLE), though it never gained widespread adoption. XML-based Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) has broader support, but is restrictive and difficult to implement.

Traditional IM/p systems were designed for 1:1 communications, and most are poor at group communications, especially with the added requirements of persistence and search. Both Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Skype for Business/Lync Server require additional resources to enable persistent rooms. Skype for Business Online does not offer persistent groups at all, nor does IBM Sametime.

It's time to kill enterprise IM/p. It's obsolete, limited, and stifles communications and collaboration. Plus, its replacement has already arrived -- workstream messaging (sometimes referred to as workstream collaboration). (See related article, "A Modality With No Name.")

Workstream messaging solutions such as Slack, Cisco Spark, Fuze Topics, Mitel MiTeam, Unify Circuit, Atlassian HipChat, Interactive Intelligence Communicate, RingCentral Glip, and Redbooth are effectively the next generation of IM/p. Key differences include:

With IM/p, UC companies had the right idea for multimodal conversations, but need to recognize that continued investment in IM is a bet on the wrong horse. Late as UC companies are to workstream messaging, they can leverage their installed bases with integrated workstream messaging solutions.

Slack is reporting four million daily active users. Facebook has announced its new Workplace solution (see related article, "Facebook Ready for the Enterprise... at Long Last"). These services tout a single app for all communications, yet lack telephony and PSTN services. UC customers have a choice: Stick with IM and let new vendors solve their communications and collaboration needs, or kill IM and offer an integrated workstream messaging solution.

Every UC company that offers both IM/p and workstream messaging should abandon IM/p and migrate customers to workstream messaging.

Of course every solution brings with it a new set of problems. The next issue will be getting all of these workstream messaging solutions to interoperate or federate with each other. The current solutions allow external participants, but fail to address shared data ownership or compliance-related concerns.

Some emerging solutions do address interoperability. offers a service that enables users to create real-time, two-way bridges (or "tubes") between heterogenous systems. For example, Sameroom can connect a persistent chat room in Jabber to a channel in Slack. Additional "tubes" connect more services. The result of this approach is that each party continues to use their own collaboration system and retains their own copy of the shared history and content.

As I wrote in an earlier post, "The PBX Is Back," the UC value proposition has de-evolved to voice. New services are needed, and workstream messaging is an obvious fit. IM is keeping the industry on the bench during the next big transition.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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