About 30 Ministry of Health staff have hooked up to IBM's Lotus instant messaging product, but the ministry is delaying further deployment of IM until an upgrade to Lotus Notes 6.5, scheduled to get under way mid-year, is complete.
"IM has limited capability and as an organisation it isn't worth the angst [for the ministry]," says chief technology officer Warwick Sullivan.
However, Lotus 6.5 allows IM users to look at an email and, if the sender is online, communicate with them via IM. Lotus's product, previously called Sametime, has since been dubbed IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing.
Sullivan says he doesn't see it replacing face-to-face contact or the telephone. "IM is another channel." IM, in the context of the awareness capability Lotus 6.5 will bring, "will be a useful tool, but not a mission killer".
In fact, IM has the potential to be "worse than email" in terms of having no standard operating procedure, he says. "But it's still a good tool. I use it and IT is one of the first parts of the ministry to be using it."
The upgrade to Lotus 6.5 will follow an upgrade to version 6 completed shortly before Christmas.
"It involved a lot of user training but gave us the ability to push out updates centrally."
Last year, then-acting ministry CIO Denis Black told Computerworld Online that security concerns were the mover for selecting Sametime rather than a free IM product.
Free IM products tend to be deployed informally by individuals, while organisation-wide rollouts tend to be of proprietary products such as Sametime.
When the ministry first announced in July that it was trialling IM, Black said "the move is in response to an IS strategic plan which called for better communication tools and ways to assist in reducing internal emails".