Portfolio Example
© International Baccalaureate Organization 2004

A: Presentation of the Issue

In March 2003 an estimated 77,000,000 unique users used an instant messaging client, half of the total internet population (Hu; Festa, 2003). Another survey conducted in June 2002 showed that 66.8% and 54.5% of Internet users used instant messaging in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively (NetValue, 2002). The huge popularity of this communications medium has also influenced business. In May 2002 12,600,000 office workers, or 31% of online workers, used some from of instant messaging (Nielsen NetRatings, 2002).

Instant messaging offers many advantages to business: real-time communication, direct file sharing (Tyson, Date Unknown), streaming content (Tyson, Date Unknown), videoconferencing and networking of Internet devices (Hu, 2003). Collaboration of projects and exchange of data between companies will therefore be easier and more efficient (Hu, 2003), resulting in higher profitability. However, companies are also concerned over security and manageability issues. Many free IM clients today do not offer logging, and consequently companies are not able to monitor the actions of employees, allowing them to casually chat and causing loss of productivity or even leak company documents (Foo, 2003). The file-sharing feature of IM could also potentially create a tunnel through security measures, as viruses may enter through transferred files (Frase, 2001) to corrupt data or steal valuable information. Thus from this seemingly harmless tool, businesses may lose more money than they gain from the benefits of IM, which at the very worst could lead to a company collapse.

B: The IT Background of the Issue

The affordability of computers and the widespread use of the Internet have caused people to demand better networking and quicker communications. E-mail for many is too slow, as the other person may not be present to receive it instantly (Hu, 2003) and videoconferencing requires expensive equipment and a broadband connection. IM takes a compromise between the two and consequently has become extremely successful with users.
Corporate usage of IM is expected to grow to 687 million enterprises by 2004 (Guzzo, 2002) whilst a survey of a number of enterprises reported that they will all take up IM by 2007

Diagram 1 (Hu, 2003): A survey of IM users by Osterman Research

Most of the IM clients available today work in similar ways. A contact list [Diagram 2 i]] is always present, displaying the other users of the client you wish to communicate with (Tyson, Date Unknown). When one of those contacts is online and using the IM client notification appears, and double-clicking on their icon will open up a window [Diagram 2 ii]] in which instant messages may be viewed and sent (Tyson, Date Unknown). A bar will allow you to type a message [Diagram 2 iii]], and after sending your message will appear in the same window along with other messages typed by your contact(s).

In addition, a button on the client may allow you to share files with other users [Diagram 2 iv]]. This will open up a TCP port and upload the file to the other person’s hard-disk directly. If you have a microphone and/or a web-cam, some IM clients may also allow voice conversations and teleconferencing functions [Diagram 2 v]]. “Tabs” may also be included to display streaming content, such as stock quotes [Diagram 2 vi]].

Diagram 2: An example of an IM client – MSN Messenger 6

C: The Impact of the Issue

Instant messaging affords business many advantages. Because IM is free, companies can cheaply communicate in real-time with clients and/or business. File sharing without IM would be a lengthy process, usually done by uploading and then downloading e-mail attachments, which is obsolete compared with IM’s direct transfer features. Voice conversations and videoconferencing are not only supported in many IM clients, but can be performed without previous notice. In situations such as the worldwide SARS virus outbreak, face-to-face meetings are not possible, and thus companies hope that IM will be able to serve as a substitute (Konrad, 2003). Streaming content such as real-time stock quotes (Tyson, Date Unknown) can also be integrated into clients. All this would improve productivity and cause higher profitability for companies.

However, it may be argued that IM may cause employees to chat casually with contacts (Glasner, 2002b), wasting Internet bandwidth, and thus productivity both for themselves and for other employees will be lowered.

Security concerns also arise with file sharing, as it opens tunnels through firewalls. A file received by employees may carry undetected viruses (Frase, 2001), which then may destroy files or steal company information and transmit them to a hacker. If this happened, company secrets with financial value may be stolen and company servers would be down, severely reducing productivity.

Lack of logging functions on current IM clients affect manageability, and companies fear they are breaking the law in not recording conversations with customers (Glasner, 2002b). This inability to track the actions of employees may also provide an avenue for them to share out confidential company documents to other people (Foo, 2003), thus losing money for companies, and to send messages which include harassment and discrimination (Guzzo, 2002), thus creating a hostile workplace for employees.

Overall the concerns over security and manageability, as well as the lack of effective solutions to combat them, have been the biggest issue for businesses. IM is further hampered by the lack of interoperability of different clients (Olsen, 2002) and lack of support of languages other than English (Creed, 2001). IM manufacturers are looking into the ways to overcome these inherent problems but still more development is needed for IM to become a viable business option.

D: Solutions to Problems Arising from the Issue

Whilst decreased productivity is of great concern, more companies believe that security breaches, such as viruses in received files, are a bigger problem (Glasner, 2002a). Hence one solution is to use anti-virus software (Frase, 2001). Anti-virus software uses virus templates to detect computer infections and runs in the background to scan files whenever they are accessed or created, so viruses should be detected and removed as soon as they are received. The best ones also scan within IM clients, furthering reducing the occurrence of viruses.

The advantages of anti-virus programs are that they detect and remove the majority of viruses; however, they may cause the inconvenience of updating templates regularly on all computers. Also, their effectiveness is reduced, as they cannot detect very new and polymorphic viruses because there is no corresponding template.

Another solution is to implement extra policies. The policies may require employees to undertake compulsory IM training, so that they can be taught scenarios that might compromise security. Other policies may also require that file sharing occur only between employees and trusted contacts, so the risks of receiving viruses are reduced.

Policies are free and easily changeable, however, even trusted contacts may obliviously send virus-laden files and policies affords no way in which viruses can be detected and/or removed, so it is ineffective in many cases.

Word Count: 1000

E: Selection and Use of Sources


Creed, Adam, P. 13/8/2001, “Instant Messaging On The Rise In Asia”,
http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0NEW/ … rint.jhtml (31/5/2003)

Frase, Dan, P. 3/12/2001, “The Instant Messaging Menace: Security Problems in the
Enterprise and Some Solutions”, http://www.sans.org/rr/paper.php?id=479, PDF format

Foo, Fran, P. 6/5/2003, “Should IM be banned from the office?”, http://zdnet.com.com/2102-
1107_2-999952.html?tag=printthis, ZDNet article (05/21/2003)

Glasner, Joanna (a), P. 17/9/2002, “Wired News: IM Bans Hush Workplace Chatter”
http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,55090,00.html (05/26/2003)

Glasner, Joanna (b), P. 11/11/2002, “IM Users: Your Boss Is Watching”
http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,56290,00.html, Wired News article (05/26/2003)

Guzzo, Maria, P. 21/6/2002, “Despite popularity, instant messaging poses problems”,
http://www.redsiren.com/pdf/articles/pg … june21.pdf, Pittsburgh Business Times article, PDF format (21/5/2003)

Hu, Jim, P. 13/3/2003, “IM: From fad to big business and beyond”,
http://zdnet.com.com/2102-1104-992391.h … =printthis, CNET News.com article

Hu, Jim & Festa, Paul, P. 15/4/2003, “AOL aims to stop the IM erosion”
http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104-996837.html (05/21/2003)
Konrad, Rachel, 2003, “Videoconferencing steps up as SARS slashes travel”, The Australian, 6 May, p.C10

NetValue, P. 20/6/2002, “Nearly 19 million Koreans online during April”,
http://www.nua.com/surveys/index.cgi?f= … p;rel=true, NUA article

Nielsen NetRatings, P. 18/6/2002, “Nua Internet Surveys: IM applications still popular with Internet users”, http://www.nua.com/surveys/index.cgi?f= … p;rel=true,
NUA article (05/26/2003)

Olsen, Stefanie, P. 13/9/2002, “Business takes lead for IM harmony”,
http://zdnet.com.com/2102-1105-957787.html, CNET News.com article (05/21/03)

Tyson, Geff (Date Unknown), “How Instant Messaging Works”,
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/insta … /printable, HowStuffWorks article (05/21/2003)

“A number of execs and upper management were using AOL Instant Messenger. They viewed it as a tool to communicate with peers, board members and to communicate with one another because email was too slow,” said Doug Utley, who was on the information services team at the time and is now product manager for Sprint’s Web services conferencing unit. “When that started happening, it became more acceptable.”
To Sprint and many other companies, instant messaging has evolved from a teenage fad to a valuable communications tool that is central to everyday business. Companies are using IM not only to send real-time messages, but also to collaborate on projects, exchange data and create networks linking all types of Internet devices.

Assessment Criteria
Criterion Level Examiner Comments
A: Presentation of the Issue
4 (Maximum 4)
The issue is clearly presented and directly relates to the news item.
There is evidence of thorough research as shown by well-cited factual evidence. Both positive and negative impacts are clearly explained. A potential long-term problem is flagged.

B: The IT Background of the Issue
5 (Maximum 5)
The student addresses concepts, developments and trends. The developments are highlighted at the start and there is some analysis where the student analyses the reasons for widespread use of IM. Trends are supported by factual evidence and the addition of a graph. Concepts are well explained with the aid of a well-annotated screenshot showing features of the IM screen.

C: The Impact of the Issue
5 (Maximum 5)
Stakeholders, ie the company, the employee using IM and other employees are considered. There is a very comprehensive consideration of positives and negatives. Positive and negative impacts are explained, analysed and evaluated. The analysis is backed up with research. Security is highlighted as the main problem.

D: Solutions to Problems Arising from the Issue
5 (Maximum 5)
Two viable solutions are explained and evaluated. Limitations are considered.

E: Selection and Use of Sources
2 (Maximum 2)
The news item is attached. The piece has been thoroughly researched. Sources are consistently cited within the text and a formal bibliography is included.

F: Expression of Ideas Relevant to the Social Issue
4 (Maximum 4)
The ideas are expressed coherently. There are supporting arguments and extended relevant examples.
Total 25/25