November 4, 2002 9:41 AM PST

AOL offers corporate instant messaging

America Online has released a version of its popular instant messaging product aimed at the corporate market.

The Enterprise AIM Services suite, now available, will allow corporations to manage instant messaging activity on their own without their customers having to access outside servers, assuaging some corporate fears about its use. The product also can be integrated with Apple Computer's iChat software.

Instant messaging has been widely adopted by consumers, and AOL dominates that market with its AIM and ICQ products. The technology has begun to creep into many workplaces, but concerns about security and interoperability have prompted some offices to crack down on employee use.

"Part of the problem has been the grassroots adoption of instant messaging that wasn't secure, that had little control" for corporations, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "This finally puts the same level of management, control and accountability that most corporations already have in place for e-mail."

AOL's new offer includes the AIM Enterprise Gateway, which lets system administrators manage the use of messaging software from behind a corporate firewall. It can be configured with a private domain service that lets administrators manage IM screen names from corporate directories.

It will also allow managers to keep tighter control of employees' use of the service, letting managers log, audit and create reports on all AIM communications so they can be monitored for legal, regulatory and accounting compliance.

The Enterprise Gateway includes technology from FaceTime Communications, which makes corporate messaging software. Other security enhancements, including the ability of business users to send and receive encrypted messages, will be available next year, through a deal with VeriSign.

AOL did not release pricing details, but sources close to the company said it will charge between $34 and $40 per user for Enterprise Gateway, depending on the size of the deal.

AOL has been working on the business version of the software for some time. But its competitors haven't been waiting around: Yahoo launched a corporate messaging application last month, and Microsoft is working on software, code-named Greenwich, designed for internal corporate messaging.

AOL has been the leader in free consumer instant messaging services. The question remains whether AOL can convince corporations to pay for instant messaging networks the same way they pay for e-mail. However, the opportunity is in AOL's favor given its lead.

Down the road, AOL hopes to allow developers to create applications for AIM in the workplace. The idea of using instant messaging software as a foundation for other applications to run on has been something Microsoft has touted.

"As we understand the changing, expanding use of AIM to include a significant number of individuals using AIM in the workplace as a communication and productivity tool, we want to provide services to allow AIM to be a positive business tool," said Bruce Stewart, senior vice president of AOL's strategic business solutions.

 

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