Inter-Office Instant Messaging

We recently upgraded our internal IM (Instant Messaging) Server from the outdated ICQ Groupware to a modern Jabber server called Openfire.  Instant messenging is the ability to send short “chat” messages “instantly” to the computer of another person. The message recpient is given a visual indicator that message has arrived which is most cases is combined with a sound alert of some sort. 

IM Client and File Transfers

IM Client and File Transfers

Unlike email, chat happens in real time and is typically short messages that need to be delivered and viewed immediately. It is a medium for quick communication that often begs a near-immediate response.

Typical examples of instant messaging that you may have used or heard of are Microsoft Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AIM and ICQ. In fact even applications like Facebook and Skype include an instant messaging ability so users can chat with their friends via text messages. 

Its not unusual to see agents using public instant messaging services or email for this sort of solution, neither of which is ideal.  Using a public instant messaging service for an internal business communication has two main problems. Besides the inherent security risk of exposing your business conversations to the Internet you also enable your staff to chat with their friends on the Internet which can result in lost productivity.

Most instant messaging clients also have the ability to conduct file transfers between users and giving all your staff the ability to transfer files out of your office cannot be very wise in any body’s book. Also public instant messaging is not really designed to send messages to multiple users inside the same network and many clients will have problems especially transferring files to each other. 

Instant messaging only really started to get going in the late 90’s but the take-up since then has been phenomenal. The two leaders of traditional IM clients that you might have come across are Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger which have 300 million and 248 million users respectively.  Then you have the Chinese Tencent QQ which has over 350 million users and can have up to 50 million users online at anyone time during the day chatting with each other. Instant messaging has just about been as popular as the Internet itself.

We installed an internal instant messaging solution in our office around 2000. We use Instant Messaging for virtually all communications between staff but one of the primary uses is for phone messages. In fact in our office we have not had a telephone message pads and scraps of paper dropped on desks for nearly a decade. 

 

Openfire IM Server Dashboard and control panel

Openfire IM Server Dashboard and control panel

The market leader at that time was ICQ (currently only 15 million active users) and they released a free ICQ groupware edition allowing companies with up to 200 employees to operate their own internal IM solution. The major downside to using the program is that ICQ provided no support or updates for the software.

 

When we upgraded our office servers recently we found that ICQ Groupware would no longer run on modern operating systems so we were forced to upgrade our IM solution.

IM for business has evolved so much over the past 9 years with large corporate solutions like Microsoft Office Live Communications Server and Lotus Sametime. These are expensive options and really suited to large corporate solutions, not your typical real estate office. 

Next in the firing line was the Jabber Protocol. As its an open source  communications protocol rather than a proprietary program anybody is able to build their own software using the protocol and they are all able to talk to each other, at least in theory. The most recognised Jabber solution that most people would have come across is Google Talk but there is a stack of other Jabber software including paid and free versions. Jabber is extremely popular in corporations and has an estimated 90 million plus users. 

After some research and reading online reviews I settled on using a Jabber server called Openfire. Its free to use and has some fantastic features. Its scalable to 200,000 users or it can just as happily run in a small office. It will run on any windows XP or later machine and there is even versions for other operating systems.  You can run multiple servers and have them talk to each other and all communications between client and server, and server to server can be secured. This means if you have a few offices each can run their own server with each office connecting to the other allowing your staff to securely and privatley chat with other staff members. 

View previous conversations

View previous conversations

Openfire has a great online community providing support for technical issues as well as the option for paid support should it be required, but for a simple installation that would be unlikely. The server also has the ability to connect with other public im networks including google talk, AIM and others.

Openfire comes with a matching client called Spark which would suit most typical real estate applications but because it uses the open source Jabber protocol you can use a range of different clients. We chose to use the Miranda client which besides being far more advanced and flexible allowed us to import the history from their old ICQ clients so each users retained their history which includes up to 9 years worth of messages.

I would highly recommend anybody looking to improve their inter office communications to install their own IM server and Openfire is a perfect choice.  With a bit of technical experience you can install the server component in under 10 minutes.  Then its just a matter of installing the IM client on each of your computers. If you are unsure of anything get your it people to get invovled.

communication, im, Software

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About Glenn Batten

Glenn Batten is the General Manager at First National Real Estate Nerang and Principal at the First National Real Estate Upper Coomera office and has over 20 years real estate experience and a passion for technology. Glenn has been writing from an agents perspective on industry issues and covering a range of topics on Business2 since 2007.

10 Responses to Inter-Office Instant Messaging

  1. Greg Vincent March 29, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    Glenn, I agree, IM is an amazing tool & should become an integral part of the day-to-day running of a real estate agency.

    While a number of agents will feel that the chatting side of it could be a concern, chatting is not just about being social & wasting time, it’s about being able to get access to someone straight away, documenting conversations & networking.

    IM can be great in relation to handling disputes.

    PS: It was interesting to see that MYSpace integrated a similar IM platform to that of Facebook just this week.

  2. Glenn Batten March 30, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Greg,

    You are never going to stop social communication in an office, in fact for my mind, in a happy office you want to encourage it as much as possible, as long as it does not interfere with your day to day operations. In contrast I know a real estate office here on the Gold Coast that the staff get in trouble if they are laughing because they cant be working.. Could you imagine that!!!

    What your own internal IM solution does is dramatically speed up both business and social interactions between staff to increase their productivity. The fact that all messages are stored in your history is just a bonus.

    During the transition I never counted on the old IM software not being able to run on a Windows 2008 so I had not researched an alternative. This meant that we had no IM for a few days. Its only when you dont have it do you realise how important a part it plays in our day to day communication in the office. Put simply it is as important as email in our office.

  3. Robert Simeon March 30, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    Hmmm – we are still on the two empty tins and a piece of string 🙂

  4. Glenn Batten March 30, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    Give it a try Robert.. I promise that you will never look back..

    Jabber also lets multiple clients log into the one account. So if you do a bit of work from a home office you can setup a login from your home pc and it logs into the same account, at the same time. In fact you can even get Jabber clients for many mobile phones so you are in constant contact with anyone in your office no matter where you are…. but one step at a time… worry about your office network first..

  5. Suresh Kumar March 30, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Yeah true. Its a great tool.

  6. matta March 30, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    Robert, the truth is some of your staff are likely to be using one of the systems already (talking to friends).

    Like Glen says, facebook etc has a chat function and ICQ/Skype etc are stand alone aps that are easy to download.

  7. matta April 2, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    just remember if you are going to save convos you will have to tell your staff about it…

  8. Paul Devine April 6, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    What ever happened to the telephone? 🙂

    The problem i see with all this wonderful technology, as much as I love it and deem it really useful, we are teaching ourselves to become anti-social robots and in a not too distant future there will be little if any social-physical contact between employee’s as we all work remotely glued to our laptop computer screens, iphones/blackberry’s and wireless internet cards.

    All this in the name of corporate productivity and gaining $$$$.

    Maybe I’m being too pessimistic.

  9. SaraMDurant July 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Our company use Bigant office messenger to work for our local network,it is a good inter office instant messenger,you can install the Bigant IM Server for yourself.

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