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Before trying to sell an IM package to someone, you need to know what your clients want and require from an IM solution. For example, financial service companies, according to SEC regulations, now must archive their IM records.

But you can’t simply ask your customer exactly what they require and want from IM, though. They often don’t know themselves, or what I’ve often found is that their people are already using IM without any IT direction.

You need to encourage your potential client to see what they’re already doing with IM. Once they know that, then you can start working on providing the kind of managed IM package that will help them get their work done and turn you a profit.

In particular, I believe verticals are ripe for channel-provided IM solutions. While everyone who pays any attention to IM knows about the demand for managed IM in financial markets, other verticals, such as law firms, remain wide open.

No IM market leaders exist in the legal vertical market. Law firms need solutions that combine wireless compatibility (lawyers love their RIM BlackBerries), encryption and message archiving.

In addition, according to Corporate Counsel, a leading legal trade magazine, law firms’ in-house departments usually lack the resources to develop technology tools on their own.

In short, they’re perfect for resellers and integrators who not only can master legal vertical software such as Best Software Inc.‘s Carpe Diem Electronic Time Sheet, but also can get those programs to work well with IM.

Horizontal applications, such as CRM (customer relationship management), also could benefit from having an IM component. Here, though, I suspect that the ISVs are more likely to add in such features, so I’d suggest that you only try to move into this field if you already have a very strong programming crew at your beck and call.

Therefore, I think most of us should be looking for IM partners rather than IM programmers. I’ve already talked about Microsoft and IBM/Lotus IM offerings, but there are other IM companies that might help you come up with a strong customized solution for your customers.

For example, FaceTime Communications Inc. makes products that manage existing public IM networks, such as AIM and Yahoo, while also supporting private IM servers such as Microsoft Office Live Communications Server.

FaceTime’s core program, IM Auditor, is meant to simultaneously archive AIM, Windows Messenger, YIM and IBM/Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly Sametime) messages. IM Director gives IT managers centralized control over IM. For example, users can be blocked from using IM entirely, or classes of IM use—such as file transfers—can be stopped. Finally, the company also offers the FaceTime RTG500, a security appliance for IM use.

Click here to read a review of FaceTime’s IM Guardian security program.

PresenceWorks Inc. is another company that can help you manage business users running with a public IM system. This Alexandria, Va., company’s specialization is integrating instant messaging into a business’s existing software.

This functionality is now delivered via a server, as an SDK (software development kit) and as an ASP (application service provider) service. PresenceWorks’ strongest business alliance is with AOL—the firm is an AOL Certified Partner—and should be considered by any integrator managing AIM users.

Another strong contender is WiredRed Software Corp. WiredRed offers e/pop Secure Instant Messaging. This is a corporate-only IM product. I give it high marks for both security and ease of administration. If your customer wants an IM approach that’s confined with the corporate LAN, WiredRed deserves your consideration. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about technology since the late ’80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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