What do teenagers and the Canadian Navy have in common? Both are using instant messaging to let their friends know what’s going on.

The navy has been using IBM’s Lotus

Sametime tool as part of its collaboration at sea strategy, according to Rob Sibbald, Lt.-Cmdr. formation information manager at Maritime Command Pacific headquarters. The organization is part of a growing international IM network with the American, British and Australian navies. Other countires like Germany and New Zealand should soon be involved as well.

“”It’s the navy’s move to a networked infrastructure for passing information, or staging it between the units,”” he said. “”Our collaboration at sea tools consist of both near-real and real time distributed collaborative planning tools, such as the Web for our intranet, e-mail, voice communications and instant messaging (IM). Each one of those tools all have a place and a purpose.””

In its base form, instant messaging is as insecure as the teenagers who made it popular, according to Nick Galletto, partner at Deloitte & Touche‘s secure e-business practice. As far as the messages themselves are concerned, he said the quality of the cipher determines how easy it is for prying eyes to see the content. The messages themselves, however, may be the least of a user’s worries.

“”If you don’t have the appropriate security controls in place you can have third parties sabotage those connections and use it as a launching pad into your internal systems,”” Galletto says.

Sibbald says he is confident his IT department is up to the task. “”Our systems are all on an intranet. They’re military intranets, so they’re are secure networks that we’ve set up and primarily goes over satellite communications,”” he says, adding that any messages are subject to military-class encryption.

Satellite communications, however, also pose a challenge, according to IDC Canada senior analyst Lawrence Surtess, given the conditions under which the system will be used.

“”Weather problems are always a factor with sat-com. Now the military tries to get around that by a multitude of systems and satellite frequencies it uses today are much, much higher than what we use in the civilian sphere.””

The Internet protocol-based system has been a hit thus far. Sibbald says IM has been readily adopted. This has helped reap benefits in two areas, he says. One, radio communication doesn’t let you know if someone is on the other end listening until they have a chance to respond. Two, the ability to get a group discussion going quickly.

“”If you combine that (IM) with something like e-mail and pass a picture or something around, everybody’s looking at the same thing, we’re all discussing the same subject,”” Sibbald says. “”The flexibility of instant messaging to form and reform these ad hoc groups is immeasurable.””

Joanne Clerk, regional manager for Eastern Canada for Lotus Software, says while the navy isn’t the typical user, it is not the first. She says the U.S. Navy has been on board for two years.

“”It was quite a proven technology for them. It really helped them bridge a very difficult environment doing real-time communications and messaging through satellite is not an easy feat,”” Clerk says.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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