By Alex Vuchnich, CPA, CFE - Instant messaging has quickly become one of the most indispensable communication tools among many larger businesses. It provides a vital point of contact between mobile and remote workers allowing for seamless interaction between dispersed teams and departments. Some have even begun to conjecture whether IM will eventually outpace and replace email. Within smaller organizations however there has been slower adoption of these applications. Within a CPA firm for instance concerns regarding the security and confidentiality of communications over public IM networks may hinder adoption. In enterprise organizations these concerns are met through the use of private IM networks and VPN which may not be economically feasible for smaller enterprises. With good policies set around what type of communications are appropriate over unsecured public networks smaller firms can leverage the value larger enterprises gain by using messaging for coordinating dispersed team efforts.
One of the problems that arise for many organization using the widely available public messaging networks is that different users may belong to one or more different networks. This can be solved by having everyone set up on just one selected network. However many free services exist that will seamlessly connect a user to multiple networks through one user login. The two services I have used and found to be quite effective are Meebo and Nimbuzz. Meebo is a web based application for coordinating desktop IM accounts while Nimbuzz is a Windows Mobile app for when I am on the go. You can create a Meebo account at Meebo. After setting up an account you enter in all your various IM account information and then are logged into all messaging accounts simultaneously through one browser interface. This has the added advantage that you can access your IM accounts while away from the office as long as you have access to an internet enabled PC. Nimbuzz can be installed directly to your supported wireless phone through your mobile browser at get.nimbuzz.com. Once installed you go through a similar set up as Meebo at which point all your IM contacts are accessible through your mobile phone.
My phone already included an IM application provided by my carrier but I was unhappy with the application because it did not allow me to log into all of my various IM accounts. Nimbuzz solved this problem for me. One drawback I noticed is that some IM services, such as MSN and AOL, kick out periodic error messages when you are logged into your account from multiple locations. I received several of these periodic messages as a result of being connected through the PC and my mobile phone which was somewhat irritating. Aside from that the services have provided me with even more accessibility to my coworkers while working remotely and conversely my coworkers more accessibility to me. With sound policies regarding what constitutes appropriate communications over public IM networks, many firms can gain tremendous benefits from coordinating over IM.