IM for Collaboration

February 10, 2008

by Lee Congdon, Chief Information Officer

Over the past few weeks, my assistant and my team have convinced me to use Instant Messaging (IM) or chat services for team collaboration. This is not new to me: we used IM as a communications tool when I was at Capital One. I even used IM from time to time during my first months at Red Hat. However, I found that I was away from my computer often enough, and busy enough, that taking the time to change my work style didn’t seem to be worth the effort.

I have changed my opinion. Since the beginning of 2008, I have worked to be online as much as possible. It has changed the way I interact with my team and with the entire organization.

We use a combination of tools for Instant Messaging, primarily based on the venerable IRC protocol. We support standards-based clients. I’ve used XChat and most recently settled on Pidgin as my IM client. We’ll be evaluating the IM services provided by Zimbra, our calendar and email platform, for potential deployment.

IM has changed the way I work. I can monitor the user questions coming to our Help Desk by watching the flow of information on the Help Desk channel. I can keep in touch with my leadership team by joining them in the IT leaders room. And, I can ask anyone online (a large group at Red Hat) a question directly. Others at Red Hat use IM to work with members of their open source development communities or to interact on customer support issues.

IM allows me to effectively be in multiple places at the same time. I can take action on routine items or check facts while engaged in a meeting. I find that IM allows for less intrusive interruptions than working through a list of emails: one can remain engaged in the present, rather than getting lost interacting with the computer.

I recommend you formally provide IM services to your organization if you are not already. (If you aren’t your users are likely using an unauthorized or user supported chat service.) You’ll find that IM offers an excellent tool for the Information Technology organization to deliver business value. It’s likely that many of your users are already familiar with IM technology.

And, if you provide a supported service, you will retain greater control over naming standards, chat classification, data retention, and appropriate business use. You should also push to integrate the presence services offered by most chat solutions into your overall integrated messaging strategy.

Strategically, that will enable your users to know whether their colleagues are available and how best to reach them: email, chat, voice or otherwise.

But perhaps most importantly, IM will enable individuals to feel better in touch with the organization. I have made a point of holding company-wide chats each quarter. That allows me to engage with people across the enterprise and around the world. We post the logs of the chats on the intranet to enable those that couldn’t participate to read the transcript. That is much more time efficient than listening to a one hour audio file, and easier to index and search as well. It also leads to a great set of follow on discussions and questions.

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