RealTime IT News

Financial Services IM Group Forms

Seven financial-services firms -- Credit Suisse First Boston, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS Warburg -- have created a new group in order to encourage the development and adoption of instant-messaging (IM) standards in their industry.

The goal of the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA) is to help companies and others in the financial-services industry to evaluate various IM systems to identify those that meet interoperability and security requirements. At the same time, those systems should provide a platform that shares both information and experiences among member firms.

FIMA says it is non-partisan, and is open to any company that wishes to promote Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) IM standards and protocols within the financial services community. By endorsing IETF instant-messaging standards, FIMA wants to promote "interoperability and beneficial competition among instant-messaging vendors."

While 70% of all IM users utilize the technology for both personal and professional conversations from the workplace, according to IDC, public IM networks -- AOL's AIM and ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger -- are not interoperable. Generally, users of one public IM network cannot communicate with users on other platforms, unless they forsake the use of the public IM client in favor of software that interoperates with those networks, like Trillian from Cerulean Studios. Those companies, though, don't always have agreements with those public IM networks' operators to enter those networks. Earlier this year, AOL shut out Trillian users from the AIM network; Trillian worked around those blocks and is currently operating with AIM, the world's most widely used public IM net.

Business users, meantime, can buy enterprise IM (EIM) networks that can communicate with some or all of the public IM nets. Those systems, though, do not solve the interoperability problem across the public IM nets themselves.

FIMA officials did not make themselves available for comment by press time. The group this morning issued a press release on its formation and goals.

FIMA, when it was known as the Instant Messaging Standards Board (IMSB), met in late August with several corporate and public IM providers to both see how their systems operated and prod them to develop interoperability standards. AOL, FaceTime Communications, IBM, Jabber, Microsoft and Reuters were among the companies the group invited to meet with the group.

Tony Bamonti, Jabber vice president of open alliances and standards, said the meetings were one-on-one affairs, with each company presenting individually to the then-IMSB body. "Each vendor, alone, presented what they're about and what their solution is all about, and how their solution addresses some of the current issues in the marketplace, both from a feature/function standpoint as well as from an interoperability standpoint."

Mehdi Maghsoodnia, FaceTime chief operations officer and chief technology officer, said his company was invited as a partner of AOL, Microsoft and Reuters. "You were not supposed to give a pitch on your products so much as disclosing to them what your plans were for providing IM to the industry," he said.

The interest of all parties involved so far with FIMA is to choose how to deploy IM across the industry to solve their needs, he also said. At the same time, FIMA and its members are educating themselves as a group, he said.

Although FIMA hit the issue of standards hard in its press statement of today, Maghsoodnia said his meeting with the board was only partly about standards. "I think some members are more vocal than others," Maghsoodnia said. "But when you talk to them individually, they indicate that they have different needs. Interoperability is definitely one of them. The idea of IT control, detection and analysis also came up -- how do they know what is being used, how do they control what is being used, how do they develop to these networks and integrate them into my business applications."

"Interoperability is one of those sexy topics everyone wants to write about, but we had the whole day, and it wasn't all about interoperability," he added. "There's a significant question in everyone's mind -- `How do I deploy an enterprise quality solution and continue to work with the public networks, because I need to have the reach to the already-adopted community out there?'"

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