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Critical Issues In Managing Information Systems In Organisations

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Instant Messaging Systems

Instant Messaging is a widely available communication medium and due to popularity and productivity increase its use has become popular in the workplace. Although this is a major benefit through increased collaborative working there are many issues and problems that have to be addressed in order to realise the 'creative and positive effects'.

The use of Instant Messaging (IM) systems in the workplace has brought with it new legal and security issues that need to be considered. Industry analysts estimate that unauthorised IM use in the workplace is between 75% and 90%. This indicates that nearly everyone using IM in any given organisation is doing so without the manager's knowledge. This shows there are clearly no rules or usage guidelines in place, and no way of knowing what sensitive information could be being divulged. Furthermore, if managers are unaware of IM usage, then there is unlikely to be technology in place to control the risk of security breaches.

The SMS and IM boost can be looked at as a critical success factors, because if harnessed they would enable the sharing of knowledge, which in turn will lead to being more prepared for situations arising in the business, leading to strategic success.

This shows that it is a feasible project for the organisation to undertake and will be based on more than just the security and legal issues.

The Benefits and Risks of using IM in the organisation

* One of the major benefits to the business is that IM saves on call costs although Voice over IP is reducing this benefit due to the savings available although it can also be seen as a compliment to voice and e-mail.

* IM is more popular than e-mail due to it being more personal and less 'intrusive' than a telephone conversation

* A major worry for IT managers is the loss of productivity due to people not realising how long they have been using the IM and the fact the information takes longer to convey across IM than by voice.

* Radicati Group indicated, "most IM users in enterprise environments used the technology more for casual intra-company communication and personal use than for communicating with customers or business partners"(http://www.instantmessagingplanet.com/enterprise/article.php/3423321).

* High IM usage can lead to an adverse affect on network bandwidth.

* Spim - IM Spam can lead to the display of unwanted advertising and pornographic material, this in turn can lead to lawsuits for sexual harassment.

* IM programs do not use a standard port number so it is hard to block the traffic with them easily passing through certain firewalls and authentication systems.

* Other features of the IM programs such as peer to peer file sharing can mean the threat of sensitive documents being passed outside the organisation. Likewise harmful files may be allowed to pass in to the organisation

* Employees may use the file transfer facility to transfer illegal music files, leading to law complications for the organisation.

* Sniffer programs can be used to intercept transmitted information due to it being in a clear text format.

The following extract from the white paper "Instant Messaging Is Great For Businesses But It Comes With Several Business Risks" outlines the issues surrounding downloadable IM clients:

With today's downloadable IM clients, corporations must grapple with several issues at once:

* Downloadable IM clients do not provide communication security to safeguard the message sent.

* They offer no audit trail accountability to identify who is using the IM technology and what they are discussing.

* They offer no protection that user identities will not be released unknowingly.

* They offer no administrative control over User IDs, passwords or other usage variables, which impact Authorized Usage Policies.

And, because there are so many of them, there is no single, uniform IM client that can be deemed the IM single standard.

Introducing an Instant Messaging System

It is important to embrace new technology, introducing it into your organisation if and when appropriate. With this come a number of issues that need to be considered, for example security, legal, consistency, data management, education and costs. Introducing an IM system at British Airways will have a positive, creative effect, and its use should be encouraged. The first thing to do though is to carry out a survey of the employees about their IM use. The survey should be designed to answer the following questions:

§ Who is using an IM system at work?

§ What systems are employees using?

§ Where did employees get the software?

§ How often is IM being used?

§ Under what circumstances are employees using IM?

§ Who are they talking to?

§ What is the content of the conversations?

§ Are files being sent and received, if so what types of files?

The results of an employee survey like this will show the management how widespread the IM use currently is. The results will help to produce rules and policies for IM use, as well as aiding the development of training programs.

Security

IM's popularity has been aided by the fact that it is so accessible. The majority of workplace PC's now have Internet access. IM software can easily be found using Internet Explorer. The software is free, easy to install and easy to use. Allowing employees to use an IM system, and providing a system for them will eliminate the risks of employees searching the Internet and downloading software from potentially unsafe sources. Employees' computers could be configured so that downloading this type of software is forbidden.

Encryption

Anti-virus

Authentication

Physical

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